The Mars Curiosity Rover has begun to again drill into the surface of the red planet. Following months of testing a new drilling process, the rover successfully dug a two-inch-deep hole in a target referred to as “Duluth” on May 20.
In December 2016, a mechanical fault took the Curiosity Rover’s drill offline. Since then, engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California have been working on a solution to restore the rover’s drilling capability. What the came up with was a novel new process called Feed Extended Drilling. After months of testing, the process was successfully used to drill a hole in the “Duluth” target.
The Feed Extended Drilling process fixes the drill bit in a position extended past two stabilizer rods. The rods were originally designed to hold the drill steady against target martian rocks. The new process relies instead on the robotic arm applying the pressure required to keep the drill steady. In other words, very similar to how a human being would hold a drill steady.
“The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet,” said Steve Lee, Curiosity Deputy Project Manager at JPL. “Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We’re thrilled that the result was so successful.”
The team’s next step will be refining the method of delivery a sample to the two laboratories within the rover. Testing on this refined method is expected to begin as early as this Friday.
Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Mars InSight Rover Course Corrects
As the Curiosity Rover begins to again drill into the surface of Mars, InSight has made its first and largest course correction on its journey to the red planet. In total, the spacecraft transporting the rover to Mars will make at least six course corrections in total.
Course corrections are necessary for interplanetary travel for two main reasons. The first is to ensure that microbes from Earth aren’t accidentally transported to another planet. Before its launch, the InSight payload including the protective shroud was given an extensive cleaning. However, the Atlas V rocket’s upper stage received no such treatment. As a result, when the rocket was launched, it was aimed slightly off target allowing the upper stage to drift off into open space after separation. The InSight spacecraft can then use its own power to line up for its journey to Mars.
The second reason for course corrections is to negate the small thruster bursts necessary to keep the spacecraft’s solar arrays trained on the sun. These small bursts cause slight deviations in the spacecraft’s course that then need to be corrected.
NASA representatives have confirmed that a 40-second course correction burn was completed successfully on May 23, 2018.