NASA’s Curiosity rover could soon be drilling rocks on Mars again.
Engineers have been working for the past year to restore the rover’s full drilling capabilities, which were hampered in 2016 due to a mechanical problem. Later this weekend, they’ll be adding percussion to a new technique already in use on Mars.
This new technique is called Feed Extended Drilling, or FED. It lets Curiosity drill more like the way a person would at home, using the force of its robotic arm to push its drill bit forward as it spins. The new version of FED adds a hammering force to the drill bit.
The drill was tested with the FED technique without percussion at the end of February. It didn’t successfully produce a rock sample, but did provide valuable results for engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Data from the percussive tests, currently planned for Saturday night, will help them continue to refine the drill technique over the coming months.
“This is our next big test to restore drilling closer to the way it worked before,” said Steven Lee, Curiosity deputy project manager at JPL. “Based on how it performs, we can fine-tune the process, trying things like increasing the amount of force we apply while drilling.” [More at link]