NASA’s engineers have stated that Mars Curiosity rover is suffering intermittent short circuits in its robotic arm, which could affect the rover’s ability to drill rocks. However, they are confident that Curiosity will return to full duty as early as next week.
Curiosity rover suffered a setback on February 27, when an arm on the vehicle short circuited. Following the incident, the on-board computers sent the vehicle into fail-safe mode, preventing any movement of the arm and locking it place. Investigators believe the short circuit took place within electronics used to operate a drill, designed to bore into rock. Samples were being transported from the drill to instruments inside the craft, in advance of testing.
Jim Erickson, Curiosity project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said, “Diagnostic testing this week has been productive in narrowing the possible sources of the transient short circuit. The most likely cause is an intermittent short in the percussion mechanism of the drill. After further analysis to confirm that diagnosis, we will be analyzing how to adjust for that in future drilling.”
According to the engineers at the JPL, the drill where the problem occurred uses both a rotating bit, as well as a hammer-like percussive action to obtain samples of powered rock, and bring them into the vehicle for analysis. At the time of the short circuit, percussive actions were taking place, in order to shake powder loose from the drill.
They added that further analysis will be conducted which are aimed at finding the exact cause and nature of the short seen during testing, before the arm is moved. Mission planners want to run tests with the arm in its current position, in case the problem does not happen when the arm is aligned differently. They hope to resume moving the rover’s arm as early as next week.
Curiosity is presently at the base of an 18,000-foot-tall mountain. The rocks in that region are made of layers of sediment dating to an era when Mars appears to have been warm and wet, and as the rover climbs the mountain, NASA hopes that changes in the rocks will help the agency understand how the planet’s climate changed over time.