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NASA begins rescue Martian “mole”

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — An experiment to study the heat flux from the depths of Mars under threat of disruption: the InSight probe drill has not been able to penetrate more than 35 centimeters into the soil since February. But the engineers figured out how to help the mission.

Recall that the Mole tool (Mole) began work in February 2019 . It was planned that in a few weeks it will reach a depth of five meters.

The mole pulls a cable along which 14 temperature sensors are mounted. Temperature at different depths would show researchers how much heat the planet’s bowels emit. In addition, the tool is equipped with a heater. Its inclusion would help to measure the thermal conductivity of Martian soil.

However, while all this remains unrealized due to the fact that the mission was faced with unforeseen circumstances. “Mole” was not able to overcome the mark of 35 centimeters. At the same time, it cannot be taken out of the well and attempted happiness in any other place: the design of the apparatus does not provide for this.

At first, experts thought that the “mole” stumbled upon a large stone (he independently pushes small pebbles to the side). To finally clarify the situation, it was necessary to remove the supporting structure of the drill with the help of a robotic arm. She obscured the instrument from the Insight cameras.

As the pictures showed, the so-called hard crust ( duricrust ) with a thickness of 5-10 centimeters is located at the drilling site . This layer does not provide the necessary friction between the drill and the ground. As a result, the mole, working as a pile driver, does not go deep into the well, but simply jumps in place.

This kind of soil has never been found on Mars in such quantities, and the design of the probe was not designed to collide with it.

During the summer, specialists tried seven times to put pressure on the soil around the well in order to increase the pressure of the “soil” on the drill and, therefore, friction. To do this, a bucket fixed on the manipulator was used, similar to a household scoop. Unfortunately, luck did not smile at Insight.

The fact is that the “mole” began drilling at a great distance from the “Insight”, so that the shadow of the probe does not affect the readings of thermal sensors. As a result, the robotic arm had to stretch out and bend at the joints. Due to such an uncomfortable position, she developed much less effort than she could. Not to mention the fact that the manipulator was not intended for such actions at all.

Now, engineers want to use the robotic arm of the apparatus to press the drill to the edge of the well, creating additional friction. Perhaps this will help the mole get off the ground. The manipulator has already taken the right position . But this operation also does not promise to be simple.

If such a strategy does not succeed, experts will try another way. You can try to scoop up the soil with a bucket and fill the well a little from the edge. This will reduce its diameter and return the “mole” grip to its wall.

To work out different options, NASA engineers have operating models of a “mole” and a manipulator, whose actions allow us to verify the feasibility of various scenarios on Earth.

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