NASA’s Perseverance to attempt second Mars soil scoop, hoping rocks don’t ‘crumble’

Perseverance, NASA's Mars rover is getting ready to make another attempt at collecting Martian rocks. This will be after the first attempt earlier in this month failed as engineers had expected. Engineers say the rovers sample-caching arm was successful, but that the sampling tube came up empty.
The rover is a science laboratory on wheels that arrived on Mars in February. Now it will travel to Citadelle for another chance at obtaining its first rock sample. Engineers will need to wait for images to confirm that a sample has been collected before the tube is processed and stored inside the rovers.

What does it mean to have no sample? What does it mean to have no sample?

We were thrilled that everything worked flawlessly from the beginning. Then, surprise! No sample. Louise Jandura (the Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching at NASAs Perseverance Team) explains what she meant by "no sample" in her first attempt to collect data on August 5. We began to investigate the incident quickly after it had sink in.

Scientists were not as impressed by the rock Perseverances' sampling drill bit dug in. The rock core that was supposed to have been solid turned out to be crumbly and slipped from the rovers sampling tube. The empty sample tube was discovered by mission staff. They used the rovers cameras for analysis of remnants from the hole Perseverance had drilled. They discovered that the hole was leaking from the material at its bottom and the dusty mound around it.

Grid View A closeup of Perseverance's borehole, showing a mound made of dusty material which scientists believe may have escaped from the drill bit tube. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance's hole, drilled August 5, sits to the right of shadow of the rovers turbine. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jennifer Trosper, Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, stated that the rock was not our type of rock in a blog post. We had acquired more than 100 cores from a variety of test rocks on Earth but had never encountered any rock in our testing suite that behaved this way.

The seven-foot-long, five-jointed Perseverances sampling arm extends out from the front of rover towards a rock of particular interest. It has a large, shoebox-sized head or turret at the end, which weighs in at 100 pounds. This head contains a hollow drill bit (formally known as a Rotary Percussive Core Drill), which drills into rock and traps the material in a tube. The tube is then stowed back inside the rover and processed until it's ready to be left on the Martian surface.

Perseverance's first sampling effort was made with a drill bit that is used to collect rock cores. Some drill bits on the rovers 9 are more suited to collecting regolith, which is the harder, dirtier material engineers encountered in their first sampling attempt.

The Perseverances mission, which aims to collect as many as 35 samples of Martian rock samples, is the first of three-pronged efforts to return those samples to Earth in the 2030s. These rocks will be stored in tiny, chalk-sized samples tubes and would be the first clean Mars samples ever collected by humans. The tubes will be left somewhere on Mars by perseverance. A future NASA robot will collect them and launch them into Mars orbit. Another European Space Agency spacecraft will then catch it and take it home.

NASA engineers spent almost a decade designing the rovers sampling systems. Perseverances chief engineer Adam Steltzner described it as one of the most complex and sophisticated things we know how build.