NASA’s Curiosity Rover Tests A New Technique To Drill On Mars

Posted: May 20 2018, 8:35am CDT | by , Updated: May 20 2018, 8:56am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA’s Curiosity Rover Tests a New Technique to Drill on Mars
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover drill is not properly working since December 2016.

After months of hiatus, Curiosity’s broken drill will be back in action this week. The rover will test new percussive drilling on Mars. The test marks the second operation of Curiosity’s drill since December 2016 and will determine how well the instrument is working.

"This is our next big test to restore drilling closer to the way it worked before," said Steven Lee, Curiosity deputy project manager at JPL. "Based on how it performs, we can fine-tune the process, trying things like increasing the amount of force we apply while drilling."

Curiosity uses its drill to collect samples from Mars rocks. It is attached to the end of Curiosity's robotic arm and collects powdered rock that is analyzed by laboratory inside the rover. Since landing inside Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012, Curiosity has acquired sample material from 15 Martian rocks. These samples are used to investigate how the ancient climate of Mars changed over time.

In December 2016, the drill's feed mechanism stopped working reliably and prevented the rover from moving its robotic arm. Although Curiosity's engineering team attempted to fix it multiple times, the issues persisted. Now, the team is adding percussion to a technique already at work on Mars. This technique is called Feed Extended Drilling or FED. It works more like the way a person would use a drill at home. The technique involves motion of the robotic arm rather than the drill's feed mechanism. The new version of FED adds a hammering force to the cutting tool and it might allow the rover to resume drilling into rocks on Mars. The FED technique without percussion was tested at the end of February.

Curiosity rover is now heading towards a location just downhill from Vera Rubin Ridge which is enriched in clay minerals.

"We've purposely driven backward because the team believes there's high value in drilling a distinct kind of rock that makes up a 200-foot-thick (about 60 meters) layer below the ridge," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL. "We're fortunately in a position to drive back a short way and still pick up a target on the top of this layer."

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