On February 27th, NASA’s Curiosity rover suffered a short circuit in its drill. The short circuit brought the mission to a standstill as engineers ran diagnostic tests. NASA has not moved the rover or its arm since the short circuit.
Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory talked about the most likely cause in a statement on Friday.
“Diagnostic testing this week has been productive in narrowing the possible sources of the transient short circuit,” said Erickson. “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.”
Curiosity’s drill uses rotation (like a typical drill) along with percussion (hammering) to drill into Mars’ surface and collect material its instruments can analyze.
The short circuit happened as the rover was moving rock powder from the grooves of the drill into a sifting mechanism. The drill’s percussion action was being used to shake the powder off the grooves.
Another short occurred during a test on Thursday. That short lasted for less than one one-hundredth of a second. It doesn’t seem like much, but it would have been enough to trigger the fault protection that happened on February 27th, according to NASA.
“The rover team plans further testing to characterize the intermittent short before the arm is moved from its present position, in case the short does not appear when the orientation is different,” reads a NASA statement.
NASA says regular operation of the Curiosity’s arm could resume in the next few days.
What’s Next for Curiosity?
Once it’s arm gets checked out, the Curiosity team will finish processing the rock sample that’s on its arm right now. After that, the march up Mount Sharp continues.
NASA officials believe that where Mount Sharp stands today, there was a lake millions of years ago. Over these millions of years, water flowed from the northern rim of Gale Crater toward the center. And with it, came sediment that slowly formed the lower layers of Mount Sharp.
Curiosity’s trek up Mount Sharp’s slopes will test NASA’s hypothesis. Curiosity will also test rock samples to see if water from Mars’ ancient past would have been able to support microbial life.
The ancient lake where Mount Sharp stands today wasn’t the only water on Mars. Researchers from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center released new research last week suggesting Mars’ had a massive ocean.