Mars rover has been inactive for several days for engineering analysis following an on-board fault-protection action on Feb 27, which halted the process of transferring sample materials between devices on the rover’s drilling machine.
Monday, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said they’ve likely narrowed down the problem to the short circuit of the drill caused by a mechanism that allows the drill to bob up and down while it is spinning.
Curiosity deputy project manager Jennifer Trosper noted that after a weekend full of tests, the team learned the circuit doesn’t kick in every time the drill is used.
“We believe we are going to get to where we can potentially utilize it even with the short, but even if we couldn’t there are other options on the table,” Trosper said.
With the problem now identified and accounted for, the 2.5 billion dollar machine should be able to resume its usual operations soon.
When the error happened, the rover was in the middle of moving some Martian rock powder from its drill to one of its on-board laboratory instruments for further study.
The malfunction triggered a protective protocol that caused the suspension of the operation, though it continued using other instruments like the on board weather station.
Trosper said this glitch was similar to something identified during pre-launch tests. So she noted, if this drill glitch is related to the problem already identified during the early tests, it denotes that NASA already has some data on how to treat the issue.
In general, she said the mood at JPL is cautiously optimistic as teams of engineers try to learn as much as they can about this short circuit.
“This is what we are paid to do right?” Trosper said. “Try to get these things as much life out of them as we can.”
Curiosity has been hard at work studying the Red Planet since August of 2012. Last year it successfully completed its primary mission of identifying compounds necessary for life to form.
Now, the rover is on an extended mission to study an ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martial environmental conditions.