Testing New Techniques for Mars Rover Rock-Drilling
In the summer and fall of 2017, the team operating NASA's Curiosity Mars rover conducted tests in the "Mars Yard" at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to develop techniques that Curiosity might be able to use to resume drilling into rocks on Mars.
JPL robotics engineer Vladimir Arutyunov, in this June 29, 2017, photo, checks the test rover's drill bit at its contact point with a rock. Note that the stabilizer post visible to the right of the bit is not in contact with the rock, unlike the positioning used and photographed by Curiosity when drilling into rocks on Mars in 2013 to 2016.
In late 2016, after Curiosity's drill had collected sample material from 15 Martian rocks, the drill's feed mechanism ceased working reliably. That motorized mechanism moved the bit forward or back with relation to the stabilizer posts on either side of the bit. In normal drilling by Curiosity, the stabilizers were positioned on the target rock first, and then the feed mechanism extended the rotation-percussion bit into the rock.
In the alternative technique seen here, called "feed-extended drilling," the test rover's stabilizers are not used to touch the rock. The bit is advanced into the rock by motion of the robotic arm rather than the drill's feed mechanism.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.