A small pile of pebbles is obstructing the operations of the Perseverance Mars rover.
The rover, which is collecting rock samples for its eventual return to
land , began to have problems on December 29, after extracting a core from a rock that the mission team dubbed “Issole.” According to a NASA Blog , the problem occurred in the device that transfers the drill bit and the sample from the rover’s drill arm to a carousel inside the rover’s chassis for storage. During the transfer, sensors inside the rover registered a higher than normal amount of friction at an unexpected point in the process. The rover shut down and sent an alert to Earth. Operators requested more data from the rover, but Perseverance took about a week to respond due to a mismatch between Martian days and Earth days, restricting how quickly the data can be transferred. Once the data came in, the team ordered the rover to act as its own mechanic by removing the bit and disengaging its drill arm to photograph its own insides.
Related: The resulting images revealed the problem: a small pile of pebbles inside the carousel. These debris fragments fell out of the sample during the transfer process, preventing the bit from seating properly within the bit carousel.
Perseverance rover picks up second sample from Mars (photos)
The carousel is designed to work even in the presence of some debris, but NASA operators are taking their time to find a solution.
“This is not the first curve Mars has thrown at us, just the last,” wrote Louise Jandura, chief sampling and caching engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the blog post. ‘One thing we’ve found is that when the engineering challenge is hundreds of millions of miles away (Mars is currently 215 million miles from Earth [346 million kilometers]), it’s worth taking your time and being thorough. We are going to do that here, ”he added.
The Perseverance rover landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. It is exploring Jezero Crater, which was once a river delta. The goal is to take rock and soil samples to assess the crater for signs that it once supported life. The rover has equipment that can do some analysis on board, but the hope is that a future mission to Mars can recover and return rock samples from the rover to Earth.
This is not the first time the Perseverance team has had to overcome a sampling problem. The rover
‘s first attempt to collect a rock sample failed. But the rover soon managed to collect a couple of rock samples in quick succession.