Engineers working with NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover have been working hard to test a new way for the rover to drill rock and extract powder from it. Last weekend, with this effort, the first drilled test on Mars was completed in more than a year.
Curiosity tested percussive drilling this past weekend and penetrated about 50 millimeters into a target called "Duluth".
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has been testing this drilling technique for a mechanical problem. Curiosity's drill offline in December 2016. This technique, called the Feed Extended Drilling, holds the drill bit two Extended support posts that were originally used to stabilize the drill against Mars stones. It makes Curiosity drill with the power of his robotic arm, a bit more than a man would drill into a wall at home.
"The team used tremendous ingenuity to develop a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet," said Curiosity deputy project manager Steve Lee of JPL. "These are two important centimeters of innovation from 60 million miles away and we're thrilled that the result has been so successful."
Drilling is an extremely important part of Curiosy's ability to explore Mars. The rover has two laboratories that can carry out chemical and mineralogical analyzes of rock and soil samples. The samples are from the Gale Crater, which the Rover has been exploring since 2012.
Curiosity's research team was eager to get the drill started before the rover leaves its current location near Vera Rubin Ridge. Fortunately, it was close enough to drill targets like Duluth to drive down the ridge. Sunday's drill sample provides a quick taste of the region before Curiosity continues.
Proof that curiosity's percussive drilling technology works is a milestone in itself. But that does not mean the work for engineers at JPL is over.
"We have been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our work is not done once a sample has been collected on Mars." Tom Green of JPL, a systems engineer who developed and tested Curiosity's new drilling method. "With each new test, we examine the data closely to look for improvements we can make and then return to our testbed to repeat the process."
There is also the next step: the rock sample from the drill to the two laboratories inside the rover. After enough powder has been trapped in the drill, engineers will now use the rover's cameras to estimate how much the drill is running backwards. The impact mechanism of the drill is also used for tapping powder.
Already on Friday, the Curiosity team will test a new procedure for sample delivery to the labs of the rover.
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