NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover fails to retrieve rock samples for analysis

NASA

The rover is exploring Jezero Crater, collecting rock and regolith samples for analysis on Earth.

The car-sized NASA Mars rover Perseverance failed in its first attempt to collect rock samples for return to Earth. “While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always a risk with breaking new ground,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate admin for NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover is exploring Jezero Crater, collecting rock and regolith samples for analysis on Earth. The Sampling and Caching System extracts samples with a hollow coring bit and a percussive drill attached to a 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm.

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How will NASA’s Perseverance rover collect Mars samples for return to Earth?

The drill and bit were engaged as planned during the first coring attempt, and the sample tube was processed as planned.

Perseverance surface mission manager Jessica Samuels said the sampling process is autonomous from start to finish.

“After placing a probe into the collection tube, one of the steps is to measure the sample volume, but the probe did not encounter the expected resistance,” she said.

The Perseverance mission is assembling a data response team. The robotic arm’s WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering) imager will be used to take close-up photos of the borehole.

Once the team understands what happened, they can plan the next sample collection attempt.

This is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting as expected during coring than a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System, according to Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance project manager at JPL.

“The team will spend the next few days analysing the data we have and gathering additional diagnostic data to help understand the root cause for the empty tube,” she added.

Previous NASA Mars missions have encountered unexpected rock and regolith properties while collecting samples.

In 2008, the Phoenix mission sampled “sticky” soil that was difficult to move into onboard science instruments.

Astonishingly hard and brittle rocks have surprised Curiosity.

“I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don’t know,” Trosper said.

Perseverance is currently exploring two geologic units containing Jezero Crater’s deepest and most ancient layers of exposed bedrock and other intriguing geologic features. The ‘Crater Floor Fractured Rough’ is Jezero’s floor.

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The adjacent Seitah unit has Mars bedrock, ridges, layered rocks, and sand dunes. The Perseverance science team recently started using colour images from the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to scout for potential scientific interest and hazards.

On Wednesday, Ingenuity flew about 1,250 feet downrange from its current location to provide aerial reconnaissance of the southern Seitah area. Perseverance will return to its landing site after its initial science foray of hundreds of sols (or Martian days).

Perseverance will have travelled between 1.6 and 3.1 miles (2.5 and 5 kilometres) and filled up to eight sample tubes by that time.

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