What to expect during NASA’s first-ever Ingenuity Mars helicopter flight | NOVA



House + FlightHouse & Flight

Need to fly a rotorcraft on one other planet? Right here’s what it takes.

A detailed-up of Ingenuity taken on April 5 by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU.

NASA has delayed the primary flight of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter, saying that it expects to set a brand new date subsequent week.

The helicopter, which arrived on the crimson planet tucked contained in the Perseverance rover in February, was initially set to fly on Sunday, securing its place as the primary rotorcraft to raise off on one other world. Late on Friday evening, nevertheless, a high-speed take a look at of Ingenuity’s rotors ended early: Because the helicopter’s command sequence tried to transition the flight pc from “preflight” to “flight” mode, engineers had been alerted to a possible downside. The workforce has determined to replace Ingenuity’s flight management software program earlier than making an attempt a maiden flight.

Throughout this primary flight, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter will raise off, hover 10 ft above the Martian floor, take photos, and contact again down—all in a interval of about 40 seconds. In the meantime, some 200 ft away, the Perseverance rover will snap photos and movies of its companion’s temporary voyage.

This primary flight will probably be a modest starting of a way more bold activity: Within the subsequent 30 days, the Ingenuity workforce at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will try a complete of 5 flights, every longer and extra technical than the final.

“Every world solely will get one first flight,” Ingenuity Undertaking Supervisor MiMi Aung mentioned throughout a press convention on Friday. It’s a “historic second that has analogues in 1903,” NASA’s Affiliate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen added, referring to the yr the Wright brothers grew to become the primary on the earth to fly a motor-operated airplane—after two failed liftoffs.

“Historical past tells us that Orville and Wilbur took this setback like true engineers,” confirming that their elementary understanding of flight was right and going again and making delicate adjustments, Aung mentioned throughout Friday’s press convention. Aung believes she and her workforce have grow to be equally well-versed within the distinctive challenges of flying a hovercraft on one other planet and are conscious that regardless of years of preparation, one thing might go improper when it’s time for the primary try. “I need to be conservative,” Aung mentioned on Friday, including the Ingenuity workforce had but to have a good time the Mars helicopter’s achievements.

Maybe the best problem the workforce will face is the Martian environment. Made up of principally carbon dioxide, Mars’ environment is a mere 1% as thick as our personal planet’s, which is primarily nitrogen. Its thinness makes it the equal of flying at thrice the peak of Mount Everest, Ingenuity chamber take a look at engineer Amelia Quon mentioned on Friday.

Rotorcrafts, together with helicopters, fly by producing raise. As their blades spin, they push the air and this lifts the craft up, Aung explains. In a skinny environment, she says, there are fewer molecules to push, “so you might want to spin a lot quicker to get raise,” she says. Whereas the blades of most Earthly helicopters function at round 450 to 500 revolutions per minute, Ingenuity’s will transfer at 2,400 rpm.

Ingenuity’s rotors “are usually not one thing off the shelf; they’re actually fine-tuned to maximise raise in a very skinny environment,” Aung mentioned. Weighing in at about 35 grams, the rotors have a foam core for lightweightedness and are coated in carbon fiber, specified by a grid, for optimum stiffness and power.

Like its blades, the physique of the Mars helicopter can be light-weight, at lower than 4 kilos. “We couldn’t make this occur” with know-how that existed 10 or 15 years in the past, Aung mentioned.

Mars’ robust winds additionally pose a problem. If gusts grow to be too robust earlier than Ingenuity is scheduled to fly, there’s no method of robotically suspending or canceling the flight by means of Perseverance, Ingenuity Operations Lead Tim Canham defined throughout Friday’s press convention. It’s because the Perseverance rover’s weather-determining system has no connection to Ingenuity. And Ingenuity has no solution to proper itself; if it fails to land right-side-up throughout any of its flights, its mission on Mars would finish.

However there’s excellent news: Martian climate is straightforward to foretell. “Climate on Mars tends to remain the identical over a interval of sols,” Canham explains. (At 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds, a Martian sol is barely longer than a day on Earth.) The Ingenuity workforce initially selected 12:30 p.m. Martian time Sunday, the equal of 11:00 p.m. EDT, for a possible first liftoff as a result of the workforce calculated that’s when Ingenuity would have essentially the most charged battery and Mars would have the calmest skies.

The workforce began testing in 2014 whether or not Ingenuity might efficiently fly on one other planet. We “made Mars on Earth,” Quon mentioned, referring to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s 25-foot house simulator thermal vacuum chamber, which Voyager 1 and a pair of had been examined in earlier than making their method into house and out of our photo voltaic system.

First, the workforce used a flight mannequin as an example that raise is feasible—image a few hops and a crash touchdown—in a Martian-like atmosphere. Then, in 2018, the workforce had the mannequin spin up three ft within the air and switch. In 2019, NASA scientists took information from earlier exams and utilized them to testing the precise Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

If all goes properly, throughout its first sol after taking to the sky, Ingenuity will transmit its black-and-white pictures and flight abstract information to Perseverance, which can transmit the information to scientists on Earth. Within the following days, scientists anticipate to obtain coloration imagery and extra complicated information from the flight.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen right here about 13 ft (3.9 meters) from the rover on this picture taken April 6, 2021, the forty sixth Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Canham can be keen to listen to the sound of Ingenuity’s liftoff: Perseverance is supplied with a microphone particularly designed to outlive on Mars—and seize the snaps, crackles and pops of its scorching stones. It’s potential for the microphone to seize Ingenuity’s liftoff, however given its considerably important distance (greater than 200 ft) from the helicopter, there aren’t any ensures. It’s “very contact and go on whether or not we’ll get something,” Canham mentioned on Friday. “However who is aware of.”

What’s extra sure is that Perseverance will seize its personal pictures of Ingenuity’s first flight.

Earlier than, throughout, and after Ingenuity’s 40-second airtime, Perseverance will snap six to seven pictures a second utilizing its onboard Mastcam-Z cameras, one with zoomed-in perspective and the opposite a zoomed-out perspective. (You may view pictures as they arrive in on NASA’s web site right here.)

The Ingenuity workforce expects its second flight to occur 4 days after its preliminary flight. And if that one goes properly—the objective being to have the helicopter fly as much as 15 ft—the workforce will transfer to an every-three-day flight cadence.

“We need to have enjoyable” with the fourth and fifth flights, Aung mentioned, suggesting that the workforce could enterprise at the least 150 ft out and again from the helicopter’s takeoff web site, presumably into never-before-seen territory. “That is all in regards to the future. That is all about being a pathfinder,” she mentioned, explaining that Ingenuity can inform how future house helicopters, which will probably be larger and heavier, ought to perform.

Like NASA’s first Mars rover—the modest 23-pound microwave-sized Sojourner, which touched down on the crimson planet in 1997—Ingenuity is a “tech demonstration,” defined Zurbuchen, NASA’s Affiliate Administrator for Science. Just like Sojourner’s temporary mission on Mars, Zurbuchen believes, many years from now, we’ll look again on Ingenuity’s month of flight with awe and fondness.

“Ingenuity’s month will probably be an aggressive demonstration of what it may presumably do,” he mentioned. And, teammate Elsa Jensen added, “Massive Sister”—Perseverance—“will probably be watching.”

Ingenuity conducts its first powered and controlled flight on Mars | NOVA



Area + FlightArea & Flight

The 4-pound helicopter simply turned the primary craft to attain managed, powered flight on a planet past Earth.

Ingenuity’s first black-and-white image from the air. Picture credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When a diminutive 4-pound helicopter lifted off over a crimson panorama on Monday morning, it turned the primary craft to attain managed, powered flight on a planet past Earth.

At roughly 6:15 a.m. EDT on Monday, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter staff—together with keen viewers from throughout the globe—watched dwell as knowledge from the crimson planet arrived to Mission Management by way of a Deep Area Community antenna. The information signified that Ingenuity’s flight, which occurred roughly 4 hours earlier, had been successful.

“Typically we now have to do one thing simply to point out that we are able to do it,” NASA’s Affiliate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen stated throughout NASA’s livestream of the occasion. “When the Wright brothers flew for the primary time, they flew an experimental plane. And in the identical method, the Mars helicopter is designed to point out that we are able to fly a powered helicopter flight within the Martian environment.”

Getting Ingenuity to fly, Ingenuity Challenge Supervisor MiMi Aung added, “was the unwavering dream of our staff since day one.”

On Monday, downlink lead Michael Starch, clad in an orange Ingenuity staff polo, studied his laptop display within the helicopter management room. “That is downlink. Early indications,” he stated, wanting up from the monitor. “Knowledge merchandise look nominal.”

Sitting shut by was Aung, who visibly grinned below her masks.

“That is downlink,” Starch repeated. “We’ve pulled in knowledge merchandise from Mars 2020.” He pauses for 39 seconds. The room was silent. “That is downlink,” he stated once more. “Confirming we obtained Mars 2020 telemetry. Confirming we obtained Mars 2020 occasion. Confirming we obtained helicopter knowledge merchandise.” Starch nodded his head up and down.

Silence as soon as once more fell over the management room. Aung twiddled her fingers. Some teammates nodded. Others glanced at their laptops after which again at their anxiously-awaiting colleagues.

“That is downlink,” Starch stated. “Confirming we now have helicopter knowledge merchandise, helicopter telemetry, helicopter occasion… battery knowledge has been obtained.”

Members of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter staff, together with MiMi Aung (entrance), in NASA JPL’s Area Flight Operations Facility put together to obtain the info downlink exhibiting whether or not the helicopter accomplished its first flight on April 19, 2021. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Starch handed it off to Flight Management, which gave its announcement: “Ingenuity is reporting having carried out spin-up, takeoff, climb, hover, descent, touchdown, landing and spin-down.”

Aung gave two thumbs up after which waved her fists. The management room erupted with clapping, originating from each mask-wearing staff members in individual and people watching over Zoom.

“Altimeter knowledge confirmed,” Flight Management stated. Cheers exploded from the management room. The altimeter plot of the flight, mechanical engineer Taryn Bailey defined throughout NASA’s livestream, signifies a peak. It begins off with a flat line, exhibiting that Ingenuity is grounded, has a steep incline, indicating that the helicopter has spun up and risen, a dwell, exhibiting that Ingenuity is hovering, after which one other steep decline to the bottom representing Ingenuity’s landing.

“Confirmed that Ingenuity has carried out its first flight of a powered plane on one other planet,” Flight Management stated.

Because the cheers and fist pumps continued, the staff obtained its first image from the mission: a black and white picture that Ingenuity snapped whereas hovering over the Martian floor, its shadow—4 rotors, 4 legs, and a tissue box-like physique—forged beneath it.

Getting Ingenuity to fly on Mars was no simple feat. This primary flight, initially scheduled for Sunday, Apr. 11, was delayed after staff engineers recognized a possible downside. (The staff determined to replace Ingenuity’s flight management software program earlier than trying a maiden flight.) And years of preparation again on Earth was vital.

Beginning in 2014, earlier than testing Ingenuity, the staff used helicopter fashions to simulate flight on Mars. These fashions have been the precursors to Ingenuity and “went by intensive environmental and aerodynamic testing,” Bailey stated.

To correctly take a look at these fashions after which Ingenuity starting in 2019, “We needed to simulate a Mars-like environment,” which is 1% the density of Earth’s, Bailey defined. The staff did this through the use of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s 25-foot area simulator thermal vacuum chamber, which allowed the staff to manage temperature and strain to simulate Mars’ atmospheric density. The staff additionally used a gravity off-load system to compensate for the distinction in gravity between Earth and Mars, Bailey stated.

After these assessments “We stated, ‘The following time we fly it’ll be on Mars,’” Aung stated throughout a press convention on Apr. 9.

The primary flight of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was captured on this picture from Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on April 19, 2021. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At 4 kilos, Ingenuity was constructed to be each mild and quick, bolstering its capacity to soar in Mars’ extremely skinny environment. Regardless of its small dimension, the helicopter’s wingspan is 4 toes tip-to-tip: “tremendous massive for one thing that’s primarily carrying [a vehicle] the dimensions of a tissue field,” Bailey stated.

Every of its 4 blades is fabricated from a light-weight however sturdy composite materials and weighs lower than 2 ounces—the equal of 4 empty soda cans. To generate raise in an incredibly-thin environment with few molecules to push round, Ingenuity’s blades transfer at a median pace of two,500 rotations per minute. (Helicopters used on Earth sometimes function at 450 to 500 rpm.)

Whereas Ingenuity’s first flight was modest—a 10-foot hover above the crimson planet’s floor and a landing—its upcoming 4 flights will enhance in technical issue. The staff hopes to finally discover elements of Mars’ terrain that it might’t navigate with terrestrial rovers like Perseverance. “The rover has to navigate round loads of obstacles on the bottom that the helicopter can fly round,” Bailey stated.

“We’ve despatched 5 rovers to Mars and now we now have an aerial dimension, which…elevates the subsequent stage of area exploration,” she added. Ingenuity and its eventual successors might also permit for extra collaboration and finally open the doorway for human exploration of different worlds, Bailey stated.

Although the Ingenuity staff already obtained nonetheless photos of the helicopter’s maiden flight from each Ingenuity and Perseverance, it expects to get video footage and extra high-resolution photos within the subsequent couple of days. You may view these on NASA’s web site right here.