NASA's InSight lander on path to Mars

Saturday, 26 May, 2018

NASA engineers spent the next year and a half figuring out a workaround that would let the rover keep doing its geology despite the busted part-and on Sunday, Curiosity successfully drilled its first new hole. The mechanical problem put a stop to the rover's drilling activities, which make up an important part of NASA's Curiosity mission.

Curiosity's drill, which sits at the end of the robot's 7-foot-long (2.1 meters) robotic arm, had been sidelined since late 2016, when a motor that extends two stabilizing posts on each side of the drill bit stopped working. "We're thrilled that the result was so successful", said Steve Lee, Curiosity Deputy Project Manager of JPL, in a statement.

A close-up image of the 2-inch-deep (5 centimeters) hole Curiosity produced using a new drilling technique on May 20, 2018.

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has been on a drilling hiatus for more than a year but it is now able to drill samples in rocks at the Red Planet's Gale Crater again.

"We've been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn't done once a sample has been collected on Mars". This image, taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera, has been white-balanced and contrast-enhanced.

The drill on NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover is back in action and could soon be restored to its former glory, the space agency announced yesterday. Curiosity can drill using the force of its robotic arm the same way a person would drill into a wall in their home. The rover used a specially designed instrument to transfer powder from the drill to those instruments &mdash but that instrument won't work with the drill bit permanently extended, as it is in the new technique. The hole is about 0.6 inches (1.6 cm) wide. Inside the rover are two laboratories that can conduct a chemical and mineralogical analysis of soil and rock samples.

Ashwin Vasavada, the project scientist of the Curiosity Rover said, "If all goes well and we can continue drilling, the science team hopes to learn how the ancient climate at Gale crater, and the prospects for life there, changed over time". "We're fortunately in a position to drive back a short way and still pick up a target on the top of this layer".

Demonstrating that Curiosity's percussive drilling technique works is a milestone in itself. Curiosity's team plans to test a new sample delivery method later this week.

Developed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, the novel drilling technique is called Feed Extended Drilling (FED) and was tested for the first time on the Red Planet over the weekend. The drill's percussion mechanism is also used to tap out powder.

NASA performed a number of tests to determine if it was feasible to drill this way, initially just poking at hard surfaces with the extended drill bit to see if the rover could adequately hold it in place.