Technical snag hits NASA's Curiosity Mars rover; scientists not using its arms as they try to diagnose the issue

New Delhi, News Nation Bureau | Updated : 08 December 2016, 03:55 PM
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover develops technical glitch in drill motor
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover develops technical glitch in drill motor

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has developed a technical glitch in the motor which moves its drilling equipment. NASA scientists are thus not driving or using its arm as of now and are trying to diagnose the issue.

NASA curiosity rover is currently on a lower Mount Sharp of the red planet. The site has been selected for the seventh sample-collection drilling of 2016 of the mission.

NASA scientists found that the Mars Curiosity rover was unable to complete the commands for drilling. The fault, which led to the inability of the “drill feed" mechanism to extend the drill to touch the rock target with the bit, was detected soon.

"We are in the process of defining a set of diagnostic tests to carefully assess the drill feed mechanism. We are using our test rover here on Earth to try out these tests before we run them on Mars," Steven Lee, Curiosity Deputy Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the US, said.

"To be cautious, until we run the tests on Curiosity, we want to restrict any dynamic changes that could affect the diagnosis. That means not moving the arm and not driving, which could shake it," Lee added.

Some possible causes of the glitch may include the failure of a brake on the drill feed mechanism to disengage fully. Another cause may be the dysfunction of an electronic encoder for the mechanism's motor.

The workarounds may exist for both of those scenarios, said Lee, adding, the first step is to find out why the motor did not work properly last week.

The front of the drill is pushed outward from the turret of tools at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm by the drill feed mechanism.
Using the drilling process, the powdered rock is collected to be analysed by laboratory instruments inside the rover.

While NASA scientists have put the arm movements and driving on hold, Curiosity is using cameras and a spectrometer on its mast, and a suite of environmental monitoring capabilities.

The NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has so far driven 15.01 kilometres since landing inside Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. That includes more than 840 meters since departing a cluster of scenic mesas and buttes - called "Murray Buttes" - in September 2016.

Since landing, NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has climbed 165 metres in elevation, including 44 meters since departing Murray Buttes.

The rover is climbing to sequentially higher and younger layers of lower Mount Sharp to investigate how the region's ancient climate changed, billions of years ago.

Clues about environmental conditions are recorded in the rock layers. During its first year on Mars, the mission succeeded at its main goal by finding that the region once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life.

"We still have percussion available, but we would like to be cautious and use it for targets where we really need it, and otherwise use rotary-only where that can give us a sample," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada at JPL.

(With inputs from PTI)