Mars Curiosity's Labs Are Back In Action

The mini testing labs built into the core of NASA's Curiosity rover are back up and running, testing rock samples collected by its newly functional drill.

At 2 pm EDT (6 pm UTC) this Thursday, NASA will have a big Mars announcement to make.

Engineers in Nasa had to improvise a brand new method for the rover to drill rocks on Mars following a mechanical problem took the drill offline at December 2016.

Further details on the find, however, are now scarce and the rover's results have been embargoed by the journal Science until the official NASA unveiling.

And, sure enough, on May 31, the rover successfully transferred the sample - taken from a Martian sedimentary rock that has been given the name "Duluth", the Inquisitr reported last month - into its mineralogy lab and will move it into the chemistry lab later during the week. Meanwhile, a force sensor lets the rover's computer know how far the drill is digging and how hard the job is.

"This was no small feat".

"The science team was confident that the engineers would deliver - so confident that we drove back to a site that we missed drilling before. The gambit paid off, and we now have a key sample we might have never gotten", Ashwin Vasavada, the mission's project scientist, said in the statement. "It means we can resume studying Mount Sharp, which Curiosity is climbing, with our full range of scientific tools".

The new sample transfer technique allows Curiosity to position its drill over two small inlets on top of the rover's deck, trickling in the appropriate amount of rock powder for the onboard laboratories to do their analyses.

Both MarCO-A and B successfully completed a set of communications tests in the past couple of weeks, said John Baker, program manager for planetary SmallSats at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

According to JPL, the technique is not as simple as it sounds because the much drier conditions on Mars and the thin Martian atmosphere causes the powdered rock to fall out of the drill differently than on Earth. Too much powder can clog instrumentation, while too little powder will fail to yield meaningful results. A successful evaluation of this shipping process on May 22 resulted in further developments in the shipping technique.

On May 20, the method worked as the agency expected and Curiosity was able to drill into a rock named Duluth. This brand new configuration no longer provides it access to some particular Apparatus that sieves and parts drilled samples in exact quantities.

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