Since December 1st, the Curiosity rover is unable to perform drilling operations because of a malfunction that prevents the robot from gathering more information about minerals stored in the red planet’s surface. According to the engineers at NASA who are currently looking into the situation, one of the brakes is not responding properly to commands and does not allow the drilling mechanism to function properly.
Because of this, the Martian explorers has been stuck at the base of Mount Sharp for almost three weeks. The engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory first learned about the issue when Curiosity was not able to dig the seventh hole scheduled for 2016. Since the rover first landed on the surface of Mars nearly four years ago, Curiosity gathered rock samples from approximately 16 formations.
For two weeks, engineers have been trying to come up with a solution. However, even if the drill remains unavailable, the rover will continue to drive around and make observations. The team of engineers explained that in order to dig a hole, the rover’s drill bores into Mars’ surface using a rotating drill bit in combination with a hammering motion. Even though the hammering mechanism failed in the early stages of the mission, drilling has proceeded according to plan.
Moreover, this is not Curiosity’s first rodeo. Before the drilling mechanism started to malfunction, the rover also experienced some problems with the motor responsible for opening the sample processing chamber. However, Ashwin Vasvada, Curiosity’s project scientist told the reporters that the problem went away on its own during a press conference last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting.
When asked about the problem with the drill feed, Ashwin Vasvada said that the engineers concluded that one of the drill’s brakes was responsible for the setback.
“We were able to determine that it was the brake that’s most likely the issue”, said Ashwin Vasvada.
Even though it sounds encouraging, the rover is still millions of miles away from the nearest mechanic. If no solution can be found, a small glitch like this one could jeopardize the success of the entire mission. Moreover, Mr. Vasvada also said that the engineers are still in the process of figuring out how to fix the recurring issue and more research is needed.
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