NASA engineers on the Curiosity rover on Mars have been working hard to devise a new way for the rover to drill into rocks and then extract powder that can be tested from them. Their efforts paid off over last weekend when Curiosity was able to produce the first drilled sample from Mars in more than a year.
The new percussive drilling test penetrated about 2-inches into a target called “Duluth” as seen in the image. NASA points out that the image was taken by Curiosity’s Mastcam and that the image has been white balanced and contrast-enhanced. This drilling sample marks the first that was collected since October 2016.
A mechanical issue took the drill on Curiosity offline in December 2016. The new technique keeps the drill bit extended past two stabilizer posts that were originally used to steady the drill against rocks. Curiosity can drill using the force of its robotic arm the same way a person would drill into a wall in their home.
Engineers say that despite the success of the new drilling technique, they still have work to do. The team will continue to look at the data to determine where improvements can be made and will continue testing drilling techniques.
Powder from the drilled rock is captured inside the drill bit and the next thing the team will work on is how to get the powdered sample from the drill bit to the two laboratories inside the rover that run chemical and mineralogical analyses of rock and soil samples. Engineers plan to use the cameras on the rover to figure out how much of the powdered sample runs out when the drill operates in reverse.