NASA engineers made history on Monday with a 39-second flight of Ingenuity, a small helicopter, in a thin atmosphere on Mars. On Thursday, they added to their success when the car was tested Fly higher, longer and risk more.
At 5:30 am Eastern time, according to the announced schedule – it was 12:30 pm in the Jezero crater on Mars – Ingenuity automatically lifted again off the red surface of Mars. , creating a cloud of dust as it soars. Its goal is to reach a height of 16 feet, tilt and move sideways 7 feet, hover in position and point its color camera in multiple directions, then return to the starting point for landing.
The Ingenuity helicopter is a demonstration of the new aerial capabilities NASA could use in the coming years, and it was added to the Perseverance, a multibillion-dollar explorer plane to send to the star. Fire to look for signs of life with extinct microorganisms. Although the small spacecraft costs a fraction of the mission to do it – $ 85 million – it has complicated computer hardware and software. And the project required engineers at NASA to come up with solutions to major technical problems.
The most difficult of all is how to get a helicopter to fly in the air 1 / 100th of the Earth’s surface, without it it is very difficult to fly. The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that built Ingenuity overcame these problems with an ultralight material that can spin at about 2,400 rpm.
During her maiden flight on Monday, Ingenuity was aloft for 39.1 seconds and soared 10 feet before turning and landing where it started. But the short step is the world’s first energy-powered flight, and expands NASA’s list of differences on Mars.
It also reinforces the way the mysteries of the solar system can be unlocked by orbiting robot and satellite off-plane transport modes. Inspired by Ingenuity’s achievements, engineers on Earth might be more encouraged to study a planet like Venus from a robot pit or ocean of icy moons like Europa from a machine. Drones from submarines.
There are no current plans to send a second helicopter to Mars. But Bob Balaram, the project’s chief engineer, said on Monday he and his colleagues had begun drafting designs for a larger Mars helicopter capable of carrying about 10 pounds of scientific equipment. .
The Ingenuity team has little spare time to complete their pilot program. NASA allocates only 30 Martian days – about 31 Earth days – for up to five test flights. Then the ship, its link to Earth, will begin its main mission of searching for signs of past life in a dry river delta along the crater rim.
It took the engineers a week to diagnose the problem that caused the Ingenuity computer to switch to “airplane mode”. Adjusting the commands sent from Earth to Mars seems to have solved the problem.
The remaining flight is to extend dexterity even further to its limits. MiMi Aung, the project’s manager, said on Monday she expects the last one to be able to go about 2,300 feet away from its starting point.
NASA also reported on Wednesday the success of an experiment in which the Perseverance aircraft produced oxygen. A device on the rover called MOXIE did this by breaking down carbon dioxide molecules in the Martian air. That progress will be crucial for future astronauts from Earth – both to create something for them to breathe and to create a catapult for them to return to Earth.