DIYers rejoice: Hitting stuff to make it work even works in space

Curiosity Rover's drill is mostly working again after 'percussive maintenance'

Curiosity's drill over the laboratory intake
Curiosity's drill over a sample inlet, taken by the rover's mastcam.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The percussive maintenance NASA carried out on the Curiosity Rover's drilling machinery has worked, and the robot has started analysing Martian rock samples again.

In mid-May, NASA announced its plan to restart the drill, which had been out of action since a motor failed in October 2016.

Agency boffins first tried “Feed Extended Drilling” – using the robotic arm to precisely direct the drill bit – and when that didn't work, they moved the drill bit against a rock.

At the time, mission scientists were still nervous – the drilling technique made acceptable holes, but they still needed to transport samples back to Curiosity's onboard lab for analysis.

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That last step, NASA has announced, was successful, and the rover is now conducting its first onboard sample analysis for more than a year.

The drilled powder will first be analysed by Curiosity's mineralogy laboratory, which measures the relative abundance of different minerals in the sample. NASA's post explained the sample will then be passed to the chemistry laboratory.

As NASA explained, while Earth-based tests suggested the technique would work, Mars soil is very dry and since nobody could pop over to Mars and see if the technique worked there was concern that the powder would fall off the bit on the way to the laboratory.

JPL engineer John Michael Moorokian said: “On Mars we have to try and estimate visually whether this is working, just by looking at images of how much powder falls out. We're talking about as little as half a baby aspirin worth of sample.”

One unavoidable trade-off in getting the drill working again is that some science had to be abandoned: “Curiosity's drill is now permanently extended,” the post said, a configuration that means it can no longer use its sieve device, the CHIMERA (Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis). ®




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