“Unless you do something about it, all hell breaks loose electronically, because it takes our power bus and rattles it around,” Curiosity chief engineer Rob Manning, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told SPACE.com in a video interview. “It’s almost like the drill grabs the rover and shakes the whole thing electronically.”
However, after a few months, NASA now has reasons to believe that they can use the drill bit, although in a different way than they did before. It took a bit of creative tinkering, but significant progress has been reported.
“We’re steadily proceeding with due caution to develop and test ways of using the rover differently from ever before, and Curiosity is continuing productive investigations that don’t require drilling,” said Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The drilling stabilizers are still not functioning, but NASA engineers have now placed the drill on the ground, applying smaller sideways forces while taking measurements with a force sensor. The sensor lets the team know how much the drill is pressing down and sideways — avoiding too much sideway force is crucial to ensure that the drill doesn’t get stuck in rock or breaks off.
“The development work and testing here at JPL has been promising,” Lee said. “The next step is to assess the force/torque sensor on Mars. We’ve made tremendous progress in developing feed-extended drilling, using the rover’s versatile capabilities beyond the original design concepts. While there are still uncertainties that may complicate attempts to drill on Mars again, we are optimistic.”
So far, results have been promising and engineers are optimistic, but even if everything goes according to plan, it will still be a few months before Curiosity starts drilling again.