Friday, May 7, 2021

NASA’s Mars Helicopter Flies Once more and Will get a New Mission

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Mike Specter
What's there to say about me, blogging is my passion, but that goes without saying, i love football and i won't turn down an invitation for a drink. Make that Tequila and you have my undivided attention! How ironic lol I enjoy reading and occasional golf


Ingenuity, NASA’s little Mars helicopter that might, will get to fly some extra.

The small flying robotic made historical past every week and a half in the past as the primary powered plane to take off on one other world. On Friday, its fourth flight went farther and quicker than ever earlier than.

That wasn’t the one excellent news NASA had in regards to the helicopter on Friday.

In a information convention earlier within the day, the house company introduced that it was extending Ingenuity’s life by one other 30 Martian days, bringing the mission into a brand new part. Now that Ingenuity’s engineers have demonstrated that flying within the skinny air of Mars is feasible, they may discover how it may be used as an aerial scout for its bigger robotic companion, the Perseverance rover.

“It’s like Ingenuity is graduating from the tech demo part,” MiMi Aung, the challenge supervisor of Ingenuity, mentioned throughout a information convention on Friday.

Beforehand, it had appeared as if the helicopter’s service life was shortly drawing to a detailed. The 30 Martian days that had been allotted for take a look at flights of Ingenuity have been to expire subsequent week, and the plans have been to then abandon it, by no means to fly once more.

Ingenuity — simply 1.6 ft tall, 4 kilos in weight — is an $85 million add-on to Perseverance, NASA’s newest $2.7 billion rover, which landed on Mars in February. The helicopter is the primary to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on one other world.

The extension of Ingenuity’s flights displays not solely the success of the helicopter but additionally the need of planetary scientists for Perseverance to discover its present environment, near the place it landed in February, as an alternative of instantly driving towards an historic, dried-up river delta to search for indicators of previous Martian life.

On the fourth flight, Ingenuity used its digicam to seek for a brand new base for future flights. On its fifth flight, it would make a one-way journey to the brand new spot. From there, it would conduct maybe one or two extra flights in Might.

Ms. Aung mentioned the helicopter may carry out reconnaissance to assist plan the place Perseverance will drive, take photos of areas too rugged for the rover to drive to and produce stereo photos to map the elevations of the Martian panorama.

“The teachings discovered from that train will profit future missions with the aerial platforms tremendously,” she mentioned.

On Friday, Ingenuity lifted off in the course of the center of the Martian day — on Earth, it was 10:49 a.m. Japanese time. After reaching an altitude of 16 ft, it headed south for 436 ft, flying over rocks, sand ripples and small craters. It hovered, took photos with its coloration digicam after which flew again to its start line, which NASA has named Wright Brothers Discipline.

The flight lined greater than twice the space of the earlier journey 5 days earlier. This time Ingenuity additionally flew for an extended interval — 117 seconds in contrast with 80 seconds on the third flight — and quicker, reaching a prime velocity of 8 miles per hour.

The success adopted an aborted flight try on Thursday. The trigger was a recurrence of an issue encountered earlier this month.

Throughout a take a look at on April 9 to spin the helicopter’s rotors to full velocity with out taking off, the start-up actions took longer than anticipated, and Ingenuity’s computer systems as an alternative shut the motors down as an alternative of coming into “flight mode.”

Throughout every week of troubleshooting, engineers got here up with a software program repair however determined to not set up it on Ingenuity due to the small however potential probability {that a} bug within the new software program may trigger even larger issues, simply as upgrading the working system of your laptop could cause the software program to crash.

The stakes are even increased when the pc is on one other planet 187 million miles away.

The engineers as an alternative opted for an easier repair: leaving the software program on Ingenuity untouched however adjusting the instructions despatched from Earth to Mars. That largely eradicated the problem, nevertheless it was not an ideal answer. Testing on Earth confirmed that timing error nonetheless occurred 15 p.c of the time.

However the engineers additionally knew that if the error recurred, they may simply strive once more the next day, and the second try would most definitely succeed. That’s precisely what occurred on Friday.

If Ingenuity continues to function and show helpful, NASA may proceed to increase its life.

Ms. Aung and Bob Balaram, the chief engineer of Ingenuity, mentioned that the helicopter was designed to final solely 30 Martian days and that they may not say how lengthy it might stay in working situation. However Dr. Balaram additionally mentioned the lifetime of Ingenuity was not intrinsically restricted. The helicopter recharges its batteries by photo voltaic panels, so it is not going to run out of gasoline, for example.

A prime velocity of 8 miles per hour could not appear significantly quick, however the robotic helicopter has to fly over an alien panorama with no assist from the engineers on Earth. It makes use of a down-looking digicam to map the panorama under, and if it flew too quick, it may lose monitor of the place it was and maybe crash.

Nevertheless, Ingenuity has not flown any increased than the 16 ft of the final three flights, though its two four-foot-wide counter-rotating blades generate sufficient carry to go increased off the bottom. That’s largely a limitation of its altimeter, which measures the peak by bouncing a laser off the bottom and noting the time for the mirrored mild to return to the sensor.

Dr. Balaram mentioned the 16-foot altitude was a “candy spot” that gives good decision for the pictures used for navigation.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if at some explicit location we’re requested to go to the next vantage level,” Dr. Balaram mentioned. The helicopter may go as much as 32 ft or so with out inflicting issues for the altimeter and “present some panoramic-type imagery that is likely to be helpful to the rover operators or the scientists.”


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