NASA has confirmed that the Mars Rover Curiosity has returned to work after the problem due to a transient short circuit that happened in late February that convinced mission control to halt its activity. In particular, the robotic arm that that was blocked was finally able to deposit the sample of pulverized rock within Curiosity to proceed to its analysis.
The Mars Rover Curiosity’s protection system blocked its activity on February 27, or sol – Martian day – 911 of its mission. NASA’s Curiosity team left it stationary to avoid the risk that the problem gets aggravated while it was diagnosed.
In the days after the activities stop, the problem was pinpointed to the mechanisms of the robotic arm. It uses both rotary and percussion systems to penetrate the Martian rocks and take samples of dust from the materials pulverized by the drill.
When the transient short circuit was detected, the Mars Rover Curiosity’s robotic arm was using the percussion mechanism. NASA’s team carried out a series of tests and on March 5 using that mechanism a short circuit happened that lasted less than a hundredth of a second.
At mission control they can set up the parameters that determine a security block to the Mars Rover Curiosity. The short circuit occurred on February 27 may have been very short just like the one reproduced during the tests and be sufficient to trigger its protection.
The data collected during the tests will keep on being analyzed to try to better understand the causes of these transients short circuit. If it’s determined that they occur only when the robotic arm makes certain movements, they can program Curiosity to use it in a different way or at least limit the potentially harmful actions.
Such short events can’t damage the Mars Rover Curiosity, which was built to withstand power fluctuations that could knock out a normal electronic equipment. However, at NASA they’re very cautious with a robot that obviously can’t be repaired in case of failures.
After two weeks of waiting, the analysis instrument CheMin (Chemistry and Mineralogy) received the sample of pulverized rock. Perhaps the results will be nothing particularly interesting but Curiosity mission scientists are all the same extremely curious to have them after the long wait.