How Perseverance is dealing with its pebble problem

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The Persistence rover, currently exploring Mars’ Jezero crater, has run into a challenge while collecting samples from the planet. It recently attempted to collect a sample from a rock called Issol, but sensors detected an anomaly during the collection process and the rover had to stop its activities.

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“This is only the 6th time in human history that a sample has been extracted from a rock on a planet other than Earth, so when we see something unusual, we slow it down,” wrote Lewis Jandura, chief engineer for sampling and caching. Let’s do it.” at NASA/JPL, in one Update,

Image of a rock called Isole on Mars captured on NASA's Mars Perseverance rover.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard Sherlock Watson Imager. The camera is located on the turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. The image was obtained on January 13, 2022 (Sol 320). NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team found that the problem occurred in a part of the sample collection process called coring bit dropoff. The rover then drilled into the rock and extracted a sample. The drill bit and sample tube then need to be guided from the drill to the end of the rover’s robotic arm and into its carousel inside the rover chassis. During this movement when it came time to insert the sample into the carousel, the rover’s sensors detected a higher resistance than expected and stopped to investigate.


When the team examined the images of the carousel, they noticed that there were some pebbles inside that probably fell out of the sample tube. It’s the pebbles that are preventing the sample tube from sliding neatly into the carousel, so he begins his next task of clearing out the debris. This involved putting the sample back on the ground using a robotic arm.

“I imagine your next question is, ‘Why are you dumping the contents of the sample tube?’,” wrote Jennifer Trosper, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Update, “The answer is that, at present, we’re not sure how much cored rock resides in Tube 261. And while this rock will never make my holiday card list, the science team really likes it. So if our If the plans go well with our pebble mitigation (see below), we may very well try to core the ‘isol’ (the rock from which this sample was taken) again.

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Next, the team will test by rotating the carousel twice to see if it moves or removes the pebbles. “We expect the data and imagery from these two rotation tests to be sent to Earth by next Tuesday, Jan. 18,” Trosper wrote. “From there, we’ll analyze and further refine our plans. If I had to ballpark it, I’d estimate we’d be at our current location in a week or two — or even longer if we re-sample Issol.” decide to give.

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