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NASA's Curiosity Rover to Test Percussion Drilling Capabilities

As the repair work on the Curiosity Mars rover ended, performed from millions of miles away, NASA engineers came up with the idea of upgrading Earth’s out of this world explorer.
Curiosity rover to start using percussion drilling 1 photo
Ever since late 2016, Curiosity has been sitting on its robotic arms, as the drill it was supposed to use for taking Martian soil samples failed. Back in March, engineers managed to get the drill back in working order.

This weekend, the space agency announced the recently repaired equipment would also get a percussion drilling feature. Called Feed Extended Drilling, or FED, this feature lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm to push its drill forward and pull it back as it spins.

"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."

The problem with the rover was that a faulty motor prevented the drill head from extending and retracting between two stabilizers that pushed against the ground. That meant the drill no longer reached the Martian soil. As part of the repair, it now sits at its fully extended position all the time.

The percussion feature is needed as the rover is currently in an area called Vera Rubin Ridge, where the soil is enriched in clay minerals.

Curiosity, which arrived on Mars in 2012, is the size of a small SUV, 9 feet 10 inches long by 9 feet 1 inch wide (3 m by 2.8 m), and it rides on 20-inch (50.8 cm) wheels. The huge wheels allow it to roll over obstacles up to 25 inches (65 centimeters) high.

Based on Curiosity, NASA currently develops a new rover, which will be used to perform tests aiming to find the best ways for humans to create oxygen on Mars. 


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