Drill design flaw source of short circuit on Curiosity

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NASA engineers have confirmed that the rover’s drill is the source of the intermittent short circuit that forced them to shut down Curiosity temporarily.

“The most likely cause is an intermittent short in the percussion mechanism of the drill,” Erickson said in a statement. (Curiosity’s drill doesn’t simply rotate; it hammers into rock, via that percussion mechansism, as well.) “After further analysis to confirm that diagnosis, we will be analyzing how to adjust for that in future drilling.” A brief short occurred during a test on Thursday (March 5) that used the drill’s percussive action, NASA officials explained.

This is not a surprise, as it has been known since before launch that a design flaw in the drill could cause short circuits, possibly serious enough to permanently shut down the rover. They have thus used the drill much less than they had originally planned, and with great care.

Once they get a handle on the specifics causing this short, they say that Curiosity will go back into operation. However, I suspect that they may no longer use the drill, or if they do, they will use it under very very very limited circumstances.



  • mivenho

    The inability to analyse solid samples using the Sample Analysis at Mars (“SAM”) instrument suite is a huge disappointment. The other problem on this magnificent rover I am aware of is the accelerated wheel damage, which is relatively insignificant compared to this hammer drill flaw.

  • Pzatchok

    I am surprised that they have not isolated the specific reason the drill is causing a short.

    Is it in the drill itself, its control circuit or does its vibration cause a problem elsewhere?

  • Read the link below the words “known since before launch.” They know its cause and it is related to the design of the drill itself and a conflict with it and the rover’s electrical system. (I am not explaining this in detail. Read the link and watch the video included therein.)

  • pzatchok

    So they used cheap glue instead of a screw to hold down the wires.
    And obviously didn’t test the set up near enough.
    So instead of fixing a loose wire they put in a isolator circuit instead.
    And still sent the rover anyways.

    If the drill itself and basically the drills design is what is causing the electrical problems, and they never found that out until just before launch, then they obviously never did do field testing of the system.

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