The Curiosity Rover's drill is in trouble.
NASA announced the instrument was “in hiatus” in late 2016 due to “an issue with a motor that moves the rover's drill.”
Now we've learned that the rover is concentrating on scooping sand while the space agency tries to sort things out.
“A balky brake appears to be affecting drill feed mechanism performance," Curiosity's deputy project manager Steven Lee said on Thursday. "In some cases, vibration has been observed to change feed effectiveness, so we're proceeding cautiously until we better understand the behavior. In the meantime, the engineering team is developing several methods to improve feed reliability."
While the drill's not spinning, NASA's decided the time is right to spend more time pondering “active linear dunes”, sandy ridges that form in long lines parallel to the direction of the prevailing wind. Curiosity's already visited crescent dunes, but did so during calmer periods of the Martian year. The visit to linear dunes will take place during Mars' windy time, so astroboffins are looking forward to figuring out how much sand is blowing about so we can ponder Martian dune formation and how different grains of different minerals move about.
Curiosity's already ingested some sand from a linear dune and given it a going over with its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. It's hoped that more of that sample will reach the the rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument.
But the same winds that make the linear dunes interesting also make it hard to pour sand samples out of Curiosity's arm and into its instruments. ®