NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity could resume the use of its robotic arm as early as this week, the space agency said. NASA engineers have figured out what was causing the intermittent short-circuit in the probe’s drill. A fault-protection response was triggered by a fluctuation in current that immediately halted the rover’s action during the probe’s 911th Martian day.
NASA engineers identify the cause of the short-circuit
Since February 27, the Curiosity team on Earth has avoided driving the probe or moving its robotic arm as engineers focused on diagnostic tests. Instruments on the rover’s mast have continued scientific observations. Jim Erickson, the Curiosity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said diagnostic testing had effectively narrowed down the sources of the “transient short-circuit.”
The short-circuit occurred while Curiosity was transferring rock-powder sample from the grooves of the drill to a mechanism that sieves and portions the rock-powder. The percussion mechanism was in use to shake the rock-powder loose from the drill. The sample collection drill on the rover’s robotic arm uses both hammering and rotation, or percussion, to dig into Martian rocks and collect samples for delivery to analytical instruments inside the Curiosity probe.
Curiosity to resume climbing Mount Sharp
On March 5, NASA engineers received results from a test on the rover that similarly used the drill’s percussion action. On the third out of 180 up-and-down repeats of the action, a short-circuit occurred for less than one one-hundredth of a second, scientists said. Though it’s very small and fleeting, researchers believe it would have been enough to trigger the fault-protection response under the parameters in place on 911th Martian day.
Once fixed, the Curiosity rover will resume climbing Mount Sharp, a towering mound of layered terrain. The $2.5 billion probe landed in Gale Crater in August 2012. It has already accomplished all the primary objectives of the mission. It has detected organic compounds necessary for life as we know it, and has showed that Mars once had a habitable environment. Mount Sharp may hold clues about what caused Mars to dry out.