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Curiosity rover stops for testing after short circuit

Curiosity's drill as seen on Spaceflight Insider

This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the rover's drill just after finishing a drilling operation at a target rock called "Telegraph Peak" on Feb. 24, Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover has stopped driving and science operations for several days so that engineers can analyze a possible short circuit. On Feb. 27, Curiosity’s fault protection systems halted the transfer of material from one device on the rover’s robotic arm to another.

Telemetry information received from Curiosity indicated that a transient short circuit had occurred and that the rover had followed its programming by halting the activity underway when the irregularity in the electrical current occurred.

“We are running tests on the vehicle in its present configuration before we move the arm or drive,” said Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This gives us the best opportunity to determine where the short is.”

On Tuesday, March 3, Curiosity’s Social Media Team tweeted on the rover’s official Twitter account: “Call me Johnny Five. Some ops on hold while my team investigates a short circuit.” The tweet was a reference to the 1986 film “Short Circuit“.

While a transient short in some of Curiosity’s systems would have little impact on its operations, in others it could force the rover team to restrict use of a mechanism.

Curiosity was in the early stages of transferring rock powder collected by the drill on the robotic arm to scientific instruments inside the rover. With the drill pointed up and the drill’s percussion mechanism activated, the rock powder drops from collection grooves in the bit assembly into a chamber in the mechanism that sieves and portions the sample powder. The transfer process had been successfully completed five previous times in 2013 and 2014.

The sample rock powder is from a rock target called “Telegraph Peak”.  The rock sits in the upper portion of “Pahrump Hills”, an outcropping that Curiosity has been studying for five months.

When operations resume, the team plans to drive Curiosity away from Pahrump Hills, exiting through a narrow valley called “Artist’s Drive”, which will lead the rover along a strategically planned route higher on the basal layer of Mount Sharp.

This hole, with a diameter slightly smaller than a U.S. dime, was drilled by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover into a rock target called "Telegraph Peak." The rock is located within the basal layer of Mount Sharp. The hole was drilled on Feb. 24, 2015. Photo Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This hole, with a diameter slightly smaller than a U.S. dime, was drilled by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover into a rock target called “Telegraph Peak”.  Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

Reader Comments

Toubo Collings

Dry ice is as cold as -109 deg’s and Mars can be as cold as -195 deg’s, it’s a wonder how mechanical robotic arms can even function at all.

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