One of the goals of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is to collect powderized samples from the interior of rocks and deliver them to onboard science instruments. This goal is achieved using the algorithms and software that control the drill hardware to produce a system that can robustly, efficiently, and autonomously drill into rocks with a priori unknown, and widely varying properties.
The algorithms used apply to the sample acquisition process between the time that the arm preloads the drill stabilizers onto a rock, and the time the arm unloads the stabilizers from the rock with the raw powderized sample contained in the interior of the drill.
This technology consists of the following algorithms and software: signal filtering; force sensor signal processing; force control algorithms; spindle, feed, chuck, and voice coil actuation and resistance calibration; rock surface seek; rock hardness test; hole start; rate of penetration estimation; drilling algorithms; voice coil level control; retraction; and bit exchange.
This work was done by Scott H. McCloskey, Avi B. Okon, and Daniel M. Helmick of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Dan Broderick at
This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Dan Broderick at