NASA’s Curiosity Rover Aims to Get Its Rhythm Back

NASA’s Curiosity rover could soon be drilling rocks on
Mars
again.

Engineers have been working for the past year to restore
the
rover’s full drilling capabilities, which were hampered in 2016
due to a
mechanical problem. Later this weekend, they’ll be
adding percussion to a new
technique already in use on Mars.

This new technique is called Feed Extended Drilling, or
FED.
It lets Curiosity drill more like the way a person would at
home, using
the force of its robotic arm to push its drill bit
forward as it spins. The new
version of FED adds a hammering
force to the drill bit.

The drill was tested with the FED technique without
percussion
at the
end of February
. It didn’t successfully produce a rock
sample, but did
provide valuable results for engineers at
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California. Data
from the percussive tests, currently planned for
Saturday
night, will help them continue to refine the drill technique
over the coming
months.

“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.”

The strategy has been to prototype these new methods while
on
the go, Lee said. If percussive drilling successfully produces
a sample this
week, the team will immediately begin testing a
new process for delivering that
sample to the rover’s internal
laboratories. In the meantime, engineers at JPL will
continue
tweaking the extended drilling technique. At the same time,
they’re developing
new ways to improve the drill’s
performance.

This week’s test will serve double duty by potentially
producing important science, said Curiosity Project Scientist
Ashwin Vasavada
of JPL. The rover has been making its way
along Vera Rubin Ridge toward an
uphill area enriched in clay
minerals that the science team is eager to
explore. In
anticipation of being able to obtain samples, the rover
reversed
direction in mid-April, heading toward a location
just downhill from the ridge.

“We’ve purposely driven backwards 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,” Vasavada said.
“We’re fortunately in a position to
drive back a short way and still pick
up a target on the top
of this layer.”

The rock type would fill a gap in the science team’s
knowledge
about Mount Sharp; they would ultimately like to analyze
samples of
all the major rock types they encounter with the
rover’s laboratories.

“Every layer of Mount Sharp reveals a chapter in Mars’
history. Without the drill, our first pass through this layer
was like skimming
the chapter. Now we get a chance to read it
in detail,” Vasavada added.

For more information about Curiosity,
visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/curiosity

https://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

2018-104

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