Scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, have a new strategy to get a troubled Mars instrument ‘Mole‘ working again.
The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package was provided by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) for the InSight Mars lander.
The instrument’s heat probe, known as the mole, should dig itself down as far as five metres into the Martian ground but came to a standstill on 28 February, having burrowed just 30cm (12 inches) below the surface.
The mole uses a hammering action to push it deeper. Tests suggest the Martian soil is not providing enough friction for the probe to push against, so the probe is bouncing in place.
NASA now plans to lift the mole’s support structure to see what is going on underneath. There is a risk, however, as they must be careful not to pull the mole out of the ground.
If successful, they could then press down on the area with the spacecraft’s robotic arm to increase friction around the mole. The delicate procedure is scheduled to begin near the end of this month.