NASA's InSight lander on Mars is trying to use its robotic arm to get the mission’s heat flow probe, or mole, digging again. InSight team engineer Ashitey Trebbi-Ollennu, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, explains what has been attempted and the game plan for the coming weeks. The next tactic they'll try will be "pinning" the mole against the hole it's in.
I'm Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu and I'm the instrument deployment system lead for the InSight Mars lander.
As you will recall, we had a problem, or an anomaly with the heat probe after deploying it, the mole stop penetrating and the robotic arm and the instrument deployment system has been helping to investigate this anomaly. So this is how we been using the scoop to help with the mole.
There's a big hole around the mole, and we've been trying to use the scoop to collapse the hole. We've been using the back of the scoop to push on the hole to collapse it. We also used the tip of the scoop to try to collapse the hole, multiple times. But we've been unsuccessful.
Our next attempt is to constrain the motion of the mole by pinning one side of the mole. By doing that, we believe would constrain the motion of the mole more in the direction downwards so we might make forward progress.
Here's another idea. We would use the scoop, to scrape the soil, to fill the hole around the mole. Then we will use the back of the scoop to compact the soil around the hole, then we'll go back and pin the mole with the scoop. And we believe this will significantly reduce the sideways motion of the mole whilst it is hammering.
As you can see, this is a very challenging problem. And sometimes it appears intractable, but we're engineers and we love solving challenging problems. We're cautiously optimistic that one day we'll get the mole working again.