NASA close to getting Mars rover back up

Curiosity's arm

On March 4, Curiosity took this image of its own arm while NASA engineers investigated a short circuit in its drill, causing the robotic rover to put itself into a protective mode.

Credit: NASA
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The Mars rover Curiosity could get back to work as early as this week as NASA engineers close in on figuring out what is causing an intermittent short circuit in the rover's robotic arm.

NASA has narrowed the problem down to an issue in the drill that is on the robotic arm.

"Diagnostic testing this week has been productive in narrowing the possible sources of the transient short circuit," said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. "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."

It's not yet clear if NASA will be able to send a software fix to the rover that has been working on the surface of Mars since August 2012.

Curiosity has been idle since a short circuit on Feb. 27 triggered the rover to stop work in order to protect itself.

All work has been paused since then.

The short occurred while Curiosity was moving rock powder from the drill on its robotic arm to a sieve that is designed to move the powder into the rover's onboard laboratory instruments. The rover had collected the powder after drilling into a rock named Telegraph Peak, a rocky outcrop near the base of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity's drill uses both rotation and hammering to penetrate into Martian rocks and collect the resulting powder.

Last Thursday, NASA received signals from the rover showing that during a test of the drill's hammering motion, it suffered another short on the third out of 180 planned hammerings. While the short circuit lasted only one one-hundredth of a second, it would have been enough to trigger Curiosity to go into protective mode, according to NASA.

It also was enough to show engineers where the short was occurring.

NASA engineers are continuing testing to pinpoint the short and figure out if the problem will happen with the arm in different positions.

Once testing is completed, engineers will direct the rover to deliver the rock powder to its scientific instruments. Then Curiosity will continue to move further up Mount Sharp.

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