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Curiosity’s “Bit” of News: Get the Drill?

A new milestone for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is at hand – well, within robotic arm’s reach.

Possible first targets for use of Curiosity’s hammering drill are being eyed. The drill will collect powdered samples from the interior of rocks for analysis by instruments inside the rover.

The spot the rover is surveying — called “Snake River” — is a thin curving line of darker rock cutting through flatter rocks and jutting above sand. Within that area it looks good for picking and pressing forward on Curiosity’s first drilling target.

Percussive drill

The Powder Acquisition Drill System is a rotary percussive drill to acquire samples of rock material for analysis. It is mounted on Curiosity’s robot arm and can collect a sample from up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) beneath a rock’s surface.

The diameter of a drilled hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters).

The drill will penetrate the selected rock and powders the sample to the appropriate grain size for use in the two analytical instruments inside the rover: Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin).

If the drill bit becomes stuck in a rock, the drill can disengage from that bit and replace it with a spare drill-bit assembly. The arm moves the drill to engage and capture one of two spare bits in bit boxes mounted to the front of the rover.

NASA’s Curiosity rover arrived on Mars in early August, designed to assess whether areas inside the landing zone — Gale Crater — ever offered a habitable environment for microbes.

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By Leonard David


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