Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera image acquired on Sol 2668, February 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It is GO for drilling at Hutton reports Catherine O’Connell, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Curiosity is parked at the “Hutton” drill site, the rover’s new drill site on Mars.

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 2668, February 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over the past couple of sols, Mars scientists have focused on assessing the suitability of the bedrock as a drill target.

Desired compositional range

The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) investigated the chemical composition to make sure that it falls within a desired compositional range.

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Right B Camera photo acquired on Sol 2668, February 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The engineers and rover planners at JPL assessed physical parameters and properties (for example looking at rock coherency, presence of veins, homogeneity of the surface),” O’Connell explains. “As the target was found to be a good candidate, drilling is a GO,” now underway is the beginning of the drill activity, with drilling planned for the second sol of a two-sol plan.

Discard site

During the first sol of the plan, the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) will take several images of the “discard site,” where our drilled sample will be dumped once the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite have finished analyzing the sample.

Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2665, February 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Drilling takes a lot of power, so other science activities were necessarily curtailed,” O’Connell adds.

The geology theme group (GEO) squeezed in two ChemCam Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) targets “Tarbat Ness” (bedrock) and “Creag na Bruaich” (a float rock). The environmental theme group (ENV) added a pair of Mastcam images looking at dust and opacity, a Navcam dust devil movie, and some standard Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) environmental monitoring activities.

Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 2665, February 4, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Eagerly awaiting images

“Following a very long overnight nap to conserve energy, drilling is scheduled to take place on the afternoon of the second sol. Once drilling has completed, Mastcam will image the new drill hole (planning for success!) the “tailings” generated by the percussion drill method, and the drill bit used to ensure it is in good condition,” O’Connell reports.

“We will be eagerly awaiting the first images down after drilling,” O’Connell concludes, “to see if we have the 24th successful drill hole on Mars!”

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