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In order to bypass a failed feed mechanism in the rover’s drill, Curiosity’s engineering team has declared successful the new techniques they have developed for drilling and getting samples.
They had successfully completed a new drill hole two weeks ago, but are only now are satisfied that the new method for depositing samples in the laboratories will work.
This delivery method had already been successfully tested at JPL. But that’s here on Earth; on Mars, the thin, dry atmosphere provides very different conditions for powder falling out of the drill. “On Mars we have to try and estimate visually whether this is working, just by looking at images of how much powder falls out,” said John Michael Moorokian of JPL, the engineer who led development of the new sample delivery method. “We’re talking about as little as half a baby aspirin worth of sample.”
Too little powder, and the laboratories can’t provide accurate analyses. Too much, and it could overfill the instruments, clogging parts or contaminating future measurements. A successful test of the delivery method on May 22 led to even further improvements in the delivery technique.
Part of the challenge is that Curiosity’s drill is now permanently extended. That new configuration no longer gives it access to a special device that sieves and portions drilled samples in precise amounts. That device, called the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA), played an important role in delivering measured portions of sample to the laboratories inside the rover.
I suspect that they still need to do more tests, and that the new method of shaking off material from the drill itself will not always work. At the same time, it reopens the option of using the drill and getting samples from it, which is a very good thing.