NASAs Curiosity rover tests new drilling method on Mars

05_24_curiosity_rover_drill

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover exhausted 2 inches (5 centimeters) into a rock on Sunday (Might 20), getting powdered Red World samples for the very first time in more than 18 months, company authorities stated. NASA points out that the image was taken by Curiosity's Mastcam and that the image has been white balanced and contrast-enhanced.

Now, imagine that happening with a drill you're controlling from 60 million miles away.

After months of analysis and testing on Earth, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, recently uplinked commands for a new drilling technique that lets Curiosity's drill bit extend out beyond two stabiliser posts originally meant to steady the bit against a target rock. After those tests returned positive results, NASA chose to move forward with the plan, and just reported the successful drilling of a large Martian rock nicknamed "Duluth". The mechanical problem put a stop to the rover's drilling activities, which make up an important part of NASA's Curiosity mission.

On May 20, Curiosity applied FED to drill a 5-cm-deep and 1.6-cm-across hole in a target called "Duluth". "We are very pleased that the result was so successful", says Deputy project Manager Curiosity Steve Lee. Thanks to a lot of creative thinking, NASA was able to overcome the most recent malfunction, allowing the rover to get back to drilling Martian rocks - a vital part of its science mission. The samples are acquired from Gale Crater, which the rover has been exploring since 2012.

Developed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the novel drilling technique is called Feed Extended Drilling (FED) and was tested for the first time on the Red Planet over the weekend.

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As we speak, according to NASA, the Mars Curiosity Rover is now making its way uphill along the Vera Rubin Ridge that is estimated to be loaded with red rocks that are likely to be filled with hematite, an iron dioxide that is only created in the presence of water.

Demonstrating that Curiosity's percussive drilling technique works is a milestone in itself.

In the next phase of this project, NASA engineers will use the Rover camera to assess how much soil gets into the inner laboratory of the Rover.

The problem with the rover's drill was that a faulty motor prevented the drill head from extending and retracting between two stabilizers that pushed against the ground when operation began. The team will continue to look at the data to determine where improvements can be made and will continue testing drilling techniques.

The challenge is to uncover whether to rover can sprinkle the powder sample onto the analytical instruments inside the two high-tech labs, perhaps by using the drill's percussion mechanism.

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