The Robotics of Sampling Regolith
Mars Perseverance Sol 634 - Left Mastcam-Z Camera: The rover inspects the regolith bit after sampling the target Atmo Mountain. The inlets, flutes, and single tooth are unique to the regolith bit. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU. Download image ›

The Perseverance rover recently collected its first two samples of Martian regolith!  Regolith is dust and broken rock, and collecting it requires a different approach than collecting rock cores.

To start with, regolith sampling uses a different bit than rock sampling.  The back of the regolith bit is very similar to a coring bit – it uses the same type of sample tube and interfaces with the drill the same way.  However, the rest of its features are uniquely designed for sampling loose material.  It is closed in the front and instead has two small inlets on the side.  To sample regolith, these inlets are submerged below the surface so regolith can flow into the hollow tip.  The inlets are sized so that every particle or pebble the bit retains will fit inside the sample tube.

The robotic arm and drill also operate in a different way for regolith sampling.  When sampling a large pile of regolith like a dune, there is no firm surface to push the stabilizers against.  Instead, the turret hovers over the surface, and the drill feed extends the bit out a pre-determined distance to contact the regolith.  From there, it moves through the following steps:

  • Insertion: The drill percusses and rotates the bit while moving it 65mm into the regolith.  The motion helps the regolith act more like a fluid, increasing the flow into the bit.  The tooth on the front of the bit breaks up any crust that may have formed on the surface of the regolith, and the flutes help channel material into the inlets.
  • Collection: While the drill continues to hammer and spin the bit, the turret rotates 5 degrees in each direction to sweep through the regolith.  If insertion caused the regolith to form walls around the bit rather than flow into it, this step disrupts the walls and ensures sample enters the bit.
  • Retraction: The drill makes sure the inlets are pointing up relative to gravity so that no sample is dropped, then slowly retracts from the regolith.
  • Leveling: The robotic arm moves the bit away from the regolith, points it down relative to gravity, then percusses for five seconds.  This causes any accumulated regolith to fall off the outside of the bit, and also makes sure the tip of the bit is only full up to the inlets.  This keeps the sample tube from being overfilled.
  • Ingestion: Now the sample needs to get from the tip of the bit to the sample tube.  The turret rotates the bit upside down with occasional bursts of percussion to make the regolith flow into the tube.  The motions are carefully controlled to keep the inlets pointing up so no sample can fall out.

After that, the rover can begin the process of returning the bit to the bit carousel, where the tube will be extracted, imaged, and sealed. 

All these steps went very smoothly for both regolith collections!  Each sample was about 53mm of height in the sample tube, or roughly 7 cubic centimeters of material.

About This Blog

These blog updates are provided by self-selected Mars 2020 mission team members who love to share what Perseverance is doing with the public.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these blogs are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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  • Mariah Baker
    Planetary Scientist, Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
    Washington, DC
  • Matthew Brand
    SuperCam/ChemCam Engineer, Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos Alamos National Laboratory
  • Sawyer Brooks
    Docking Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Adrian Brown
    Deputy Program Scientist, NASA HQ
    Washington, DC
  • Denise Buckner
    Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Fred Calef III
    Mapping Specialist, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Stephanie Connell
    SuperCam, PhD Student, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN
  • Alyssa Deardorff
    Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Kenneth Farley
    Project Scientist, Caltech
    Pasadena, CA
  • Phylindia Gant
    Mars 2020 Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Brad Garczynski
    Student Collaborator, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN
  • Erin Gibbons
    Student Collaborator, McGill University
    Montreal, Canada
  • Michael Hecht
    Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) Principal Investigator, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Westford, MA
  • Louise Jandura
    Chief Engineer for Sampling & Caching, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Elisha Jhoti
    Ph.D. Student, University of California, Los Angeles
    Los Angeles, CA
  • Bavani Kathir
    Student Collaborator on Mastcam-Z, Western Washington University
  • Lydia Kivrak
    Student Collaborator, University of Florida
    Gainesville, FL
  • Rachel Kronyak
    Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Steven Lee
    Perseverance Deputy Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • An Li
    Student Collaborator on PIXL, University of Washington
  • Justin Maki
    Imaging Scientist and Mastcam-Z Deputy Principal Investigator, NASA/JPL
  • Forrest Meyen
    MOXIE Science Team Member, Lunar Outpost
  • Sarah Milkovich
    Assistant Science Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Eleanor Moreland
    Ph.D. Student, Rice University
    Houston, Texas
  • Matt Muszynski
    Vehicle Systems Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Claire Newman
    Atmospheric Scientist, Aeolis Research
    Altadena, CA
  • Avi Okon
    Sampling Operations Deputy Lead, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Pegah Pashai
    Vehicle Systems Engineer Lead, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • David Pedersen
    Co-Investigator, PIXL Instrument, Technical University of Denmark (DTU)
    Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Eleni Ravanis
    Student Collaborator, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
    Honolulu, HI
  • Kathryn Stack
    Deputy Project Scientist, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Vivian Sun
    Science Operations Systems Engineer, Staff Scientist, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Iona (Brockie) Tirona
    Sampling Engineer, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Jennifer Trosper
    Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Vandi Verma
    Chief Engineer for Robotic Operations, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Rick Welch
    Deputy Project Manager, NASA/JPL
    Pasadena, CA
  • Roger Wiens
    Principal Investigator, SuperCam / Co-Investigator, SHERLOC instrument, Purdue University
    West Lafayette, IN

Tools on the Perseverance Rover+

The Perseverance rover has tools to study the history of its landing site, seek signs of ancient life, collect rock and soil samples, and help prepare for human exploration of Mars. The rover carries:


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Image of a rover pin-point at Perseverance's location on Mars, Jezero Crater

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