NASA’s Mars 2020 mission team has been working methodically to determine the best way forward to clear pebbles stuck in the Perseverance rover’s sample collection system.
On December 29, the Perseverance drilled through a rock nicknamed Issole and extracted a sample from it. “However, during the transfer of the sample-containing chunk to the rover’s carousel (which stores the chunks and passes them in tubes to the processing hardware located inside), our sensors indicated an anomaly.” wrote Louise Jandura, chief sampling and caching engineer at NASA, in a blog post last Friday.
I recently captured my sixth rock core and have encountered a new challenge. Seems some pebble-sized debris is obstructing my robotic arm from handing off the tube for sealing/storage. More images and data to come. #SamplingMars takes perseverance.Blog: https://t.co/flabIslR21pic.twitter.com/sfaxuu0HNG
– NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) January 8, 2022
Over the past weekend, and earlier this week, operational sequences were developed and tested for remove these rocky intruders. First, the rover took a look at the ground below it so it could monitor changes as it dislodged intrusive pebbles. Next is a robotic arm maneuver.
“Simply put, we are returning the remaining contents of sample tube 261 (our last rock core sample) to its home planet,” wrote project manager Jennifer Trosper in an information update on the rover on Friday. Trosper described it as something that “I never imagined we would do”.
The researchers note that while such a scenario was never designed or planned before launch, “turns out pouring a core from an open tube is a pretty straightforward process”. The commands have been sent, after which the robotic arm will simply point the open end of the sample tube toward the Martian surface and let gravity do the rest.