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Engineers have successfully tested a new drill procedure on a duplicate rover on Earth that bypasses the problem in Curiosity’s drill.
The problem with the drill has been its feed mechanism, which pushes the drill bit downward as it drills its hole. The tests with the duplicate rover on Earth have instead had the drill bit fully extended and used the robot arm itself to push downward. It worked, but the problem on Mars is holding the drill bit perfectly straight and not slipping sideways. They are now doing a test with Curiosity to address this.
Curiosity touched its drill to the ground Oct. 17 for the first time in 10 months. It pressed the drill bit downward, and then applied smaller sideways forces while taking measurements with a force sensor. “This is the first time we’ve ever placed the drill bit directly on a Martian rock without stabilizers,” said JPL’s Douglas Klein, chief engineer for the mission’s return-to-drilling development. “The test is to gain better understanding of how the force/torque sensor on the arm provides information about side forces.”
This sensor gives the arm a sense of touch about how hard it is pressing down or sideways. Avoiding too much side force in drilling into a rock and extracting the bit from the rock is crucial to avoid having the bit get stuck in the rock.
Stay tuned for a Mars rover update, coming shortly!