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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover labs are back in action

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover labs back in action
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After 18 months, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover's onboard laboratories are back in action analysing drilled samples. Above - NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover snaps a self-portrait on Vera Rubin Ridge back in February.

After 18 months, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover's onboard laboratories are back in action analysing drilled samples. Above - NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover snaps a self-portrait on Vera Rubin Ridge back in February.

Thanks to over a year's work by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, After 18 months, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover's onboard laboratories are back in action analysing drilled samples.

"This was no small feat. It represents months and months of work by our team to pull this off," said Jim Erickson, project manager of the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The new sample transfer technique allows Curiosity to position its drill over two small inlets on top of the rover's deck, trickling in the appropriate amount of rock powder for the onboard laboratories to do their analyses, the US Space agency noted.

The drill bit of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover over one of the sample inlets on the rover's deck. The inlets lead to Curiosity's onboard laboratories.

The drill bit of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover over one of the sample inlets on the rover's deck. The inlets lead to Curiosity's onboard laboratories.

The Space agency's engineers had to improvise a new way for the rover to drill rocks on Mars after a mechanical problem took the drill offline in December 2016. The rover drilled its last scheduled rock sample in October 2016.

On May 20, a technique called "feed extended drilling" allowed Curiosity to drill its first rock sample since October 2016; on May 31, an additional technique called "feed extended sample transfer" successfully trickled rock powder into the rover for processing by its mineralogy laboratory. Delivery to its chemistry laboratory will follow in the week ahead, Nasa said.

Testing of both the new drilling method and sample delivery will continue to be refined as Curiosity's engineers study their results from Mars. The new sample transfer technique allows Curiosity to position its drill over two small inlets on top of the rover's deck, trickling in the appropriate amount of rock powder for the onboard laboratories to do their analyses.