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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.