NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has dirt clogging up its rock sample system

This January 7 image shows debris clogging up NASA’s Perseverance rover’s bit carousel.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This story is part welcome to mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Mars doesn’t like our robotic explorers. This smother them with dust, rough up to your wheels and mess with your probes, and is now launching a new challenge on NASA’s Perseverance rover. There is some pebble-sized debris getting in the way of the machine’s rock sampling system.

Everything went well at first. On December 29, Perseverance drilled into a rock nicknamed Issole and extracted a sample from it. “However, during the transfer of the bit containing the sample to the rover’s bit carousel (which stores bits and passes tubes to the tube processing hardware inside the rover), our sensors indicated an anomaly,” wrote Louise Jandura, chief sampling engineer. and cache, in a blog post on Friday.

The rover stopped its sampling activities when it encountered unusual resistance during the sample storage process. As the rover team expressed in a tweet on Friday, the result is that the debris is preventing the rover’s robotic arm from properly delivering the sample-filled tube for sealing and storage.

Perseverance is the first rover to attempt to sample Mars in sealed tubes. It’s a key part of a mission that also looks for signs of ancient microbial life on the red planet. NASA is planning to send an ambitious future mission to get the samples and bring them back to Earth for study.

The rover team ordered the machine back by pulling the drill bit and tube. He took some pictures along the way to help diagnose the problem. “These most recent images confirm that within the bit carousel there are some pebble-sized pieces of debris,” Jandura wrote. NASA expects the stones to have fallen from the sample tube.

While the wreckage poses a challenge, there’s still nothing to worry about. Jandura said that the designers of the bit carousel have considered this possibility, but that it will take time to work on a solution that allows the pebbles to “come out in a controlled and orderly manner.”

NASA has proven to be resourceful when it comes to dealing with the red planet’s tantrums. The Perseverance team plans to take this slowly to ensure the sampling system is clear and ready for future work.

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