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Mars rover deploys Ingenuity helicopter for historic flight – now for space flight



The camera view taken from the “Perseverance” rover shows the Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance Rover released the Ingenuity helicopter to the surface of Mars on Saturday, leaving the experimental flying drone to survive on its own, until it tried to make a historic leap in the thin carbon dioxide atmosphere of the Red Planet.

This milestone project began a week of inspection and testing before NASA committed to spend 80 million US dollars on the first test flight of the Ingenuity helicopter (current target is April 11).

NASA officials confirmed that the Rangers landed the 4-pound (1.8 kg) helicopter on the ground on Saturday. An image from a persevering rover’s dangerous camera shows that Ingenuity stands upright on the surface of the planet.

The six-round Rangers need to leave the helicopter within 25 hours to ensure that sunlight can start charging the six lithium-ion batteries of the rotorcraft. Based on the dangerous camera perspective of the Persistent Camera, the Ingenuity helicopter seems to be basking in the sun after deployment. The afternoon sun casts a shadow on the rusty soil of Mars.

The Ingenuity helicopter has been attached to the abdomen of the Persevering Rover for nearly a year. Technicians working in the clean room of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center connected the rotorcraft to the Mars rover on April 6, 2020. A few months ago, the mission was launched from Cape Canaveral on July 30 with a joint launch alliance. The Atlas 5 rocket lifted off.

On February 18, during the landing of the rover, a debris shield protected the helicopter. Last month, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, ordered the abandonment of the debris shield in preparation for the release of the helicopter.

In the past week, the ground team gradually executed a series of carefully designed commands, first releasing a lock that firmly fixed the helicopter to the abdomen of the rover in a horizontal position. Then, the helicopter rotated to an angle of about 45 degrees, and two of the aircraft’s four carbon fiber composite legs were extended.

Last week, the helicopter went into the vertical direction and the other two landing feet were deployed. All that is left is a small bolt and some electrical connectors to connect the rover to the helicopter.

These wires enable the nuclear battery of the rover to fully charge the helicopter’s battery.

“This is a good thing, because after the fall, Ingenuity has to use its own battery to run its own heater. Rangers no longer have free power!” Bob Balaram, Chief Engineer of JPL Helicopters Wrote in the blog on Friday.

Before the helicopter fell on the abdomen of the rover, Perseverance powered the heater, which kept the rotorcraft’s internal electronics at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). The temperature of the permanent landing site in Jezero Crater may be as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius).

Artist illustrations of NASA’s Perseverance Rover and the original Mars helicopter. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity is now gone, it doesn’t have a power source as powerful as perseverance. Ballaram said the helicopter’s tiny batteries will power the heater block to keep the aircraft’s internal electronics at about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).

“Then, you can survive the first night alone!” Ballaram wrote. The next day, the Ingenuity team will anxiously await the letter from the helicopter. Are you staying up late? Are the solar panels working as expected?

“The team will check the temperature and battery charging performance in the next few days,” Balaram wrote. “If everything looks good, then the next step is to unlock the rotor blades and test all motors and sensors.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said on Wednesday that Ingenuity’s first flight is now scheduled for April 11th, and data confirms that the result of this jump is expected to return to Earth the next day.

Perseverance will go to an observation location that is at least 200 feet (60 meters) away from the Ingenuity flight area, which itself is approximately the length of a football field. The flight area includes an airfield and a 33 x 33 ft (10 x 10 m) area where helicopters will take off and land.

Engineers used Perseverance camera images to select the location of the airport, which is free of large rocks and steep slopes.

Ingenuity helicopter is a technical demonstration, and automatic test flight will bring risks. NASA wants to ensure that the Perseverance rover maintains a safe distance from the rotorcraft when it takes off.

Ingenuity’s counter-rotating carbon fiber blades span about 4 feet (1.2 meters), and the blades will rotate at a speed of up to 2537 rpm (over 40 times per second) while the helicopter remains on the ground. This is the last one Tests are performed before engineers put the aircraft in flight.

The engineer plans to conduct up to five test flights. Starting from ascending to an altitude of about 10 feet (3 meters), the aircraft will hover for about 30 seconds, then turn around and land to the takeoff place. A further test flight will reach a maximum altitude of approximately 16 feet (5 meters) and perform a forward movement to carry the helicopter down the flight area and return to its take-off position.

NASA has set aside a month for the demonstration flight of the Ingenuity helicopter. This clock starts when Perseverance releases the rotorcraft to the surface of Mars. Aerial drones will attempt to fly in an atmosphere that only accounts for 1% of the earth’s thickness. For this reason, the helicopter’s rotor will be five to ten times faster than a typical helicopter flying in the earth’s atmosphere.

There is no scientific means for ingenuity. It has black-and-white and color cameras that can assist in automatic navigation and collect aerial images of the landing site of the persevering rover at Jerzero Crater, which has a liquid water lake 3 billion years ago.

The helicopter will operate by itself during each flight. Currently, the one-way propagation time of radio signals between the Earth and Mars exceeds 14 minutes.

If the experiment is successful, Ingenuity can pave the way for future aerial explorers to fly around other planets. NASA is already developing a rotorcraft that can fly around Saturn’s moon Titan, whose atmosphere is denser than that of Earth.

After the 31-day helicopter test campaign, the Perseverance Rover will continue its efforts to achieve its main goal, which is to identify, collect and seal rock samples for future missions to return to Earth.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.




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