[REVIEW] : Damn ! Perseverance has a problem with its 6th sample of Martian rock

Even if the deployment of the James Webb telescope in space attracts a lot of attention, NASA does not forget its other missions. Meanwhile, on December 29, 2021, its Perseverance rover managed to collect a new sample from the Red Planet, NASA said on January 7.

This is his sixth sampling from Martian rock (and his seventh sample collection). However, this time the robot encounters a difficulty. “It appears that rock-sized debris is preventing my robotic arm from transferring the tube for sealing/storage,” reads the Twitter account, on which NASA has its rover speak in first person.

What’s wrong with this sample?

The issue arose when the drill bit, with the sample tube and its sample inside, had to be moved out of the drill (which sits at the end of the rover’s arm) to the carousel ( on the rover chassis). Unusual resistance was recorded at this stage. Additional data and images were obtained to help the responsible team assess the situation. It took a week to receive the elements allowing us to fully understand the problem.

It was then decided to extract the drill bit and the tube from the carousel, as well as to detach the arm from the carousel. New images have been taken, confirming that there is some debris, “the size of a pebble”, which has become lodged in the carousel. According to NASA, it is likely that these are pieces of the rock that was drilled, which must have fallen from the tube when the drill bit was to be moved.

Will it be necessary to remove this debris in order to continue to take samples? For now, NASA is taking its time to see if they should be evacuated, and if so, how to go about it. “When the engineering challenge is hundreds of millions of miles away (Mars is currently 215 million miles from Earth), it pays to take your time and be thorough,” NASA said in a statement. That’s what we’re going to do. “

Not easy to repair a robot 215 million km away

The Perseverance robot continues to do its job on the planet Mars. Including collecting soil samples by drilling. But during his sixth collection, (the seventh attempt in fact, but the first had failed) on December 29, a grain of sand slipped into the process. When extracting the core sample from the drill, there was abnormal resistance.

The robot then immediately applied the procedure provided in the event of a problem: cease all activity and call the house to ask for help, communicates NASA. As Mars and Earth are out of sync these times, the latency of data transfers is longer than usual. Engineers requested additional data and images to try to understand where the problem was coming from, but they took a week to get to them.

Once these were studied, NASA sent back a command to extract the drill bit and sample-filled tube from the bit carousel and detach the robotic arm from said bit carousel. Images were taken during these operations. And one of them, below, helped locate and identify the problem.

You can clearly see some rock-sized debris in the Perseverance carousel. “The team is convinced that these are fragments of the core rock that fell out of the sample tube when the core bit was removed, and that they prevented the bit from sitting completely in the bit carousel,” writes NASA.

Can the robot continue its mission like this or must they first be removed before continuing? Engineers say they want to take their time to think about it and clean up Perseverance, “an engineering challenge when you’re hundreds of millions of miles away (Mars is currently 215 million miles from Earth)” . But NASA assures it, it will get there and the robot will be able to continue its mission on Mars, the planet on which it landed in February 2019.

After the sixth Mars collection, the Perseverance rover faces a problem

2022 doesn’t seem to have started too well for the Perseverance rover, which has been working on Mars exploration since February last year. According to NASA, after obtaining its sixth collection of Martian rocks in late December, the rover has a problem: small grains of sand and rocks are clogging its sample collection system.

Fortunately, according to the US space agency, the robot succeeded. “The rover did what it was designed to do – stop the caching procedure and call the ground crew for instructions,” revealed Louise Jandura, chief sampling engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the NASA. NASA, in a statement from the NASA agency.

According to Jandura, the sensors started registering resistance much earlier than expected due to the additional debris. “The designers of Little Carousel considered the ability to continue to operate successfully with debris,” he wrote. “However, this is the first time we have done a debris removal and we want to take the time to make sure these rocks come out in a controlled and orderly way. “

The little carousel is a mechanism in the background of the rover’s sample cache system, which allows the various samples taken to be stored. Now, engineers have the heavy task of unclogging the collection system. And that’s made even more difficult with longer-than-usual latency caused by “constrained suns”, i.e. days when Mars and Earth are out of sync and make data transfers difficult.

However, the JPL team is confident the rover will “persevere” – pardon the pun – and survive the indigestion. “This isn’t the first sand Mars has thrown at us — just the most recent,” Jandura said. “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), it’s worth taking your time and thinking about. to be thorough. “

Perseverance Rover has a little rock problem

The persevering rover has reached an Obstacle level, after the Martian rock sample extracted on December 29 was not properly transferred to storage for the long-range probe. NASA is currently working on how to clear debris from the rover’s mechanism before doing more sampling.

Louise Gandora, lead engineer for sampling and buffering at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The problem arose when the rock sample was moved from the end of the robotic arm I drilled on the carousel containing the tube samples. The sensors on the tenacity track the resistance when the drill containing the sample first makes contact with the carousel, and this time there was more drag than usual.

The persistence team tested the rover for more data and images and asked the rover to separate the drill bit and sample the circuit. This rupture took place on January 6th and NASA obtained the data on January 7th.

The rover photos showed several parts of the ground and gravel; The team suspected that the debris had cut Grainy rocks that fell during the landing process, save The drill bit is neatly nestled in the carousel.

Jandura noted that the persistence is able to store samples even with debris in the way, but as the $2.7 billion rover is still relatively new to the Red Planet and has a lot of science in store, the team hopes. rid it of stones before continuing the task.

The sample came from a rocky outcrop called Isol, where the team hopes to collect a pair of crater samples in an area called Séítah, which is recognizable by its large, difficult-to-navigate sand dunes. The Séítah rocks are of particular scientific interest, as pointed out in a November NASA Blog: “By studying the directions in which the strata tilted, we determined that the Séítah rocks are probably the oldest exposed rocks of all Jezero Crater. Séítah therefore marks the beginning of accessible geological archives and offers a unique opportunity to explore the full extent of the evolution of the landscape. “

Eventually, the rover will reach the western rim of Jezero Crater, which would be located in the Dry River Delta. Based on Fossils of microbial life on Earth, according to the Crater Perseverance Team, this is one of the best sites to look for signs of life from ancient Mars.

Perseverance brought 43 sample tubes to Mars, seven of which have been filled. The first and second tubes contain no stones, but the rest are successfully stored. By the end of the decade, NASA intends to bring these rock samples to Earth, where they can be analyzed for years to come.

Of course, the rover must first clear the last sampling hurdle. But it’s called perseverance for a reason.