Specialized Sensors Guide Mars Rover Drilling Arm

Feb. 12, 2013
Since landing on the surface of Mars in August, NASA’s Mars Rover has yet to utilize its drilling arm to full capacity. However, that all changed on February 9, 2013. That day, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Mars Rover Curiosity officially bore its first hole into the Martian surface.

Seen as the rover’s most complex device, the robotic drilling arm penetrated what is identified as a “flat, veiny rock” to collect its first samples. This collection marks the first sampling of any rover on Mars. Helping to ensure the success of this drilling mission two customized sensors from Futek Advanced Sensor Technology, Inc., Irvine, Calif. 

According to Natasha Niezgoda, spokesperson for Futek, within the drill sits a Thru-Hole Load Cell that the company manufactured to measure the forces of the drill bit as it bores into the Martian terrain. Futek was commissioned by NASA to develop this cryogenic donut load cell specifically for Curiosity’s drilling arm.

Meanwhile, a Multi-Axial Sensor sits at the base of the rover's robotic arm monitoring the arm’s maneuvers. This three-component sensor provides feedback to the operating device identifying the levels of torsion and force applied to the arm.

These precision instruments led to a 0.63-inch wide and 2.5-inches deep hole in the Martian bedrock. This particular location showed evidence of water and moisture saturation, according to NASA.

Ground controllers were scheduled to guide Curiosity through multiple stages of investigation within the rover’s Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device.  “Futek awaits Curiosity’s analysis of the rock sample over the next few days to confirm this theory,” said Niezgoda. “Futek’s entire team waits in anticipation as the samples process.”

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