A robot arm drill used on the Mars Opportunity Rover to bore out powder samples from rocks for analysis is reported to be suffering from a serious fault. The fault apparently involves loss of drill in and out feed movement (drill rotation is unaffected). The problem, which was discovered on 1 December, is rated as important as the drill’s other method of forward motion – a percussive “chipping” system – is already suffering from an intermittent issue discovered in 2015. As such engineers are fearful of using that again.
NASA/JPL engineers are working on the feed movement fault, which is believed to be related to the drill brake that leans on the surface when in use. Analysis of the behaviour of the feed motor has caused engineers to believe that foreign debris may have entered the mechanism, which they may be able to shake free using an induced shaking motion. The drill is an integral part of the science package of the rover as without it no more samples can be retrieved for scientific analysis.