Cleverly, NASA’s little Mars helicopter will probably fly even more.
The small flying robot made history a week and a half ago as the first energy-powered aircraft to take off in another world. On Friday, its fourth flight went further and faster than ever.
That wasn’t the only good news NASA had about the helicopter on Friday.
In a press conference earlier that day, the space agency announced that it was extending Ingenuity’s lifespan by another 30 days on Mars, bringing the mission to a new stage. Now that Ingenuity engineers have demonstrated that they can fly in the thin air of Mars, they’ll explore how it can be used as an aerial reconnaissance for its larger robot companion. it, Perseverance rover.
MiMi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity, said: “It’s like Ingenuity is graduating from the technology demo phase,” MiMi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity, said during a press conference on Friday.
In the past, it seemed that the life of the helicopter was quickly ending. The 30 days allotted on Mars for Ingenuity test flights will run out next week, and plans will then abandon it, never again.
The dexterity – just 1.6 feet tall, weighing 4 pounds – was a $ 85 million addition to the Perseverance, NASA’s latest $ 2.7 billion discovery plane, down wings on Mars in February. A helicopter is the first to fly like an airplane or a helicopter in another world.
Ingenuity’s stretching of flights not only reflects the success of the helicopter, but also the planet scientists’ desire for Persistence to explore its current surroundings, close to the place. it landed in February, instead of immediately driving back to an ancient dry river delta looking for signs of life on Mars in the past.
During the fourth flight, Ingenuity uses her camera to search for new bases for future flights. On its fifth flight, it will make a one-way trip to the new destination. From there, it will probably make one or two more flights in May.
Ms. Aung said the helicopter could do reconnaissance to help plan where Perseverance will fly, photograph areas that are too rough for the pilot to fly, and create stereo imagery for mapping. The altitude of the Mars landscape.
“The lessons learned from that exercise will greatly benefit future missions with aerial rigs,” she said.
On Friday, Ingenuity took off in the middle of Mars day – on Earth, it was 10:49 am Eastern time. After reaching 16 feet, it headed south 436 feet, flying over rocks, sand ripples, and small craters. It hovered over, photographed with a color camera and then flew back to its starting point, dubbed the Wright Brothers Field by NASA.
The flight has covered more than twice the distance of the previous flight five days earlier. This deft also flew for a long time – 117 seconds versus 80 seconds on the third flight – and faster, reaching a top speed of 8 miles per hour.
Success after a flight attempt was canceled on Thursday. The reason is due to the problem encountered earlier this month.
During a test on April 9 to spin the helicopter’s propellers to full speed without taking off, the warm-up operations took longer than expected and Ingenuity’s computers changed. entering it will turn off the engine instead of entering “flight mode”.
During a week of troubleshooting, the engineers came up with a software fix but decided not to install it on Ingenuity because a small but probable bug in the new software could cause problems. larger, like upgrading your computer’s operating system. may cause software problems.
The risk is very high even when the computer is on another planet 187 million miles away.
Instead, engineers chose a simpler solution: leave the software on Ingenuity but adjust the commands sent from Earth to Mars. That has largely eliminated the problem, but it is not a perfect solution. Testing on Earth shows time errors still happen 15% of the time.
But the engineers also know that if the bug recurs, they can try again the next day and a second try will most likely be successful. That’s exactly what happened on Friday.
Once Ingenuity continues to function and has proved to be useful, NASA can continue to extend its lifespan.
Ms. Aung and Bob Balaram, chief engineer of Ingenuity, said that the helicopter was designed to operate for only 30 days on Mars and they cannot say how long it will be in service. But Dr. Balaram also says the duration of the Dexterity has no intrinsic limit. The helicopter charges its battery through solar panels, so it won’t run out of fuel, for example.
A top speed of 8 miles per hour might not seem particularly fast, but robotic helicopters can fly through an alien landscape without the help of Earth engineers. It uses a look-down camera to map the landscape below, and if it flies too fast it could lose track of its location and possibly crash.
However, Ingenuity did not fly more than 16 feet in the last three flights, even though its two rotational propellers all four feet wide created enough lift to fly higher off the ground. This is largely a limitation of an altimeter, which measures height by shining a laser off the ground and recording the time it takes for reflected light to return to the sensor.
Dr. Balaram says the 16-foot altitude is a “sweet spot” that provides good resolution for the images used for navigation.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if at a particular location we were asked to go to a higher vantage point,” said Dr. Balaram. The helicopter can fly up to 32 feet or longer without causing altimeter problems and “provides some panoramic images that might be useful for aircraft operators or scientists. . “