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From: Roger Nelson
To: All
Date: 2016-12-06 15:59:34
Subject: More December News

News | December 5, 2016
 
Curiosity Rover Team Examining New Drill Hiatus
View from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on the mast of NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover
 
This Dec. 2, 2016, view from the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on the mast of
NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows rocky ground within view while the rover
was working at an intended drilling site called "Precipice" on
lower Mount Sharp.
 
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Full image and caption
 
http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA21140
 
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover is studying its surroundings and monitoring the
environment, rather than driving or using its arm for science, while the
rover team diagnoses an issue with a motor that moves the rover's drill.
 
Curiosity is at a site on lower Mount Sharp selected for what would be the
mission's seventh sample-collection drilling of 2016. The rover team
learned Dec. 1 that Curiosity did not complete the commands for drilling.
The rover detected a fault in an early step in which the "drill
feed" mechanism did not extend the drill to touch the rock target with
the bit.
 
"We are in the process of defining a set of diagnostic tests to
carefully assess the drill feed mechanism. We are using our test rover here
on Earth to try out these tests before we run them on Mars," Curiosity
Deputy Project Manager Steven Lee, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, said Monday. "To be cautious, until we run the
tests on Curiosity, we want to restrict any dynamic changes that could
affect the diagnosis. That means not moving the arm and not driving, which
could shake it."
 
Two among the set of possible causes being assessed are that a brake on the
drill feed mechanism did not disengage fully or that an electronic encoder
for the mechanism's motor did not function as expected. Lee said that
workarounds may exist for both of those scenarios, but the first step is to
identify why the motor did not operate properly last week.
 
The drill feed mechanism pushes the front of the drill outward from the
turret of tools at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. The drill collects
powdered rock that is analyzed by laboratory instruments inside the rover.
While arm movements and driving are on hold, the rover is using cameras and
a spectrometer on its mast, and a suite of environmental monitoring
capabilities.
 
At the rover's current location, it has driven 9.33 miles (15.01
kilometers) since landing inside Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. That
includes more than half a mile (more than 840 meters) since departing a
cluster of scenic mesas and buttes -- called "Murray Buttes" --
in September 2016. Curiosity has climbed 541 feet (165 meters) in elevation
since landing, including 144 feet (44 meters) since departing Murray
Buttes.
 
The rover is climbing to sequentially higher and younger layers of lower
Mount Sharp to investigate how the region's ancient climate changed,
billions of years ago. Clues about environmental conditions are recorded in
the rock layers. During its first year on Mars, the mission succeeded at
its main goal by finding that the region once offered environmental
conditions favorable for microbial life, if Mars has ever hosted life. The
conditions in long-lived ancient freshwater Martian lake environments
included all of the key chemical elements needed for life as we know it,
plus a chemical source of energy that is used by many microbes on Earth.
 
Curiosity's drill, as used at all 15 of the rock targets drilled so far,
combines hammering action and rotating-bit action to penetrate the targets
and collect sample material. The drilling attempt last week was planned as
the mission's first using a non-percussion drilling method that relies only
on the drill's rotary action. Short-circuiting in the percussion mechanism
has occurred intermittently and unpredictably several times since first
seen in February 2015.
 
"We still have percussion available, but we would like to be cautious
and use it for targets where we really need it, and otherwise use
rotary-only where that can give us a sample," said Curiosity Project
Scientist Ashwin Vasavada at JPL.
 
JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages NASA's Mars
Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate,
Washington, and built the project's rover, Curiosity. For more information
about the mission, visit:
 
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/
 
News Media Contact
Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278
guy.webster{at}jpl.nasa.gov
 
2016-309
 
 
Regards,
 
Roger

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