NASA’s Perseverance Rover efficiently cores its first rock – with it?
The borehole from Perseverance’s second sampling attempt can be seen in this composition of two images captured by one of the rover’s navigational cameras on Sept. 1 Credit: NASA / JPL-CaltechComplete picture and caption
Perseverance will receive additional images of the sample tube before possibly completing the process of collecting its first scientifically selected Martian sample
Data obtained from NASA’s Perseverance rover in late September shows that the team achieved its goal of successfully drilling a Martian rock. The first images, linked down after the historic event, show an intact sample that was present in the pipe after core drilling. However, additional images taken after the arm specimen acquisition was completed were inconclusive due to the poor exposure to sunlight. Another round of images with better lighting is taken before sample processing continues.
Obtaining additional images prior to sealing and storing the Mars rock sample is an additional step the team decided to take based on their experience with the rover’s sampling attempt on August 5th. Although the Perseverance mission team is confident that the sample is in the tube, images under optimal lighting conditions will confirm its presence.
Perseverance’s sampling and caching system uses a rotating percussion drill and a hollow core drill at the end of its two-meter robotic arm to take samples that are slightly thicker than a pencil. A sample tube is located inside the drill bit during core drilling. After completing the core drilling yesterday, Perseverance maneuvered the core drill, drill bit and open end of the sample tube to be imaged by the rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument. The target of the sampling was a briefcase-sized rock that belongs to a more than 900 meter long ridge and contains rock outcrops and boulders.
This September 1st image from NASA’s Perseverance rover shows a sample tube with its core rock in it. The bronze-colored outer ring is the core drill. The lighter colored inner ring is the open end of the tube, and inside is a rock core sample that is slightly thicker than a pencil. In a later picture, the rock sample inside the tube was not clearly visible. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS full picture and caption
The first pictures from Mastcam-Z showed the end of a core rock inside the sample tube. After taking these images, the rover began a process called “Percuss to Ingest,” which involves vibrating the drill bit and pipe for a second five times. The purpose of the movement is to remove any residual material from the lip of the sample tube. The action can also cause a sample to slide further down the tube. After the rover completed the percuss-to-ingest procedure, it took a second set of Mastcam Z images. In these images, the lighting is poor and internal parts of the sample tube are not visible.
“The project has its first core rock under its belt, and it’s a phenomenal achievement,” said Jennifer Trosper, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “The team has determined a location and selected and gutted a usable and scientifically valuable rock. We did what we came to do. We will work through this little hiccup with the light conditions in the pictures and we are encouraged that there is a sample in this tube. ”
Orders connected to the rover earlier today will take pictures of the kernel and tube tomorrow, September 3rd, at times of day on Mars when the sun is in a more favorable position. Photos are also taken after sunset to reduce point sources of light that can saturate an image. The photos will be returned to Earth in the early morning of September 4th.
If the results of this additional imaging are inconclusive, the Perseverance team still has several options to choose from, including using the volume probe’s sampling and caching system (located in the rover’s chassis) as final confirmation that the sample is in the Tube is located.
This picture was taken on September 1st by Mastcam-Z after Perseverance’s sampling activities and shows the rover’s drill bit without a cored rock sample being visible in the sample tube. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS
The core drilling on September 1 is the second time that Perseverance has used its sampling and caching system since landing in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.
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A major goal of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including looking for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the red planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rocks and regolith.
Subsequent NASA missions, in collaboration with ESA, would send space probes to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and bring them back to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s moon-to-Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the red planet.
JPL, managed for NASA by Caltech of Pasadena, California, built and managed the Perseverance rover.
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