NASA previews first Mars helicopter flights: Each step taken is ‘uncharted territory’

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is concentrating on no sooner than April 8 for the first-ever try at energy and managed flight of an plane on one other planet

In a information convention Tuesday, members of the company’s California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) defined that there are nonetheless a “variety of challenges forward” and that each single step of the method is unprecedented. 


“As with all the things with the helicopter, the sort of deployment has by no means been completed earlier than,” mentioned Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover. “As soon as we begin the deployment there isn’t a turning again. All actions are intently coordinated, irreversible, and depending on one another. If there’s even a touch that one thing isn’t going as anticipated, we could resolve to carry off for a [Martian day] or extra till now we have a greater thought what’s going on.”

Earlier than Ingenuity may even attempt to fly within the Martian environment, the 4-pound rotorcraft should first be deployed. 

On Mar. 21, the Perseverance Mars rover – which carried Ingenuity to the crimson planet – dropped its particles defend that protected the helicopter and is at present en path to the 33-by-33-foot “airfield” the place Ingenuity will try its first flight

As soon as the rover reaches its flight zone, it’ll take a few week to get the helicopter up and operating. 

The Mars Helicopter Supply System will rotate and launch the helicopter about 5 inches above the floor. Perseverance then has 25 hours to maneuver away to its “rover commentary location.” 


Ingenuity – which can be autonomous and charged by its personal photo voltaic panel – has a month-long window for as much as 5 check flights.

“We are going to undergo plenty of days of commissioning – roughly every week – the place we check our sensors, we check our solo mechanism, we check the motors to ensure they spin proper. And, we can be very methodical and event-driven as this engineering experiment unfolds,” mentioned Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter chief engineer at JPL. 

“After which, we can be at a degree the place we are going to undertake our first flight after which we are going to progressively undertake extra flights as soon as we perceive and analyze all of the habits from that first flight,” he mentioned.

Final week, JPL introduced that it had chosen a flight zone simply north of Perseverance’s touchdown web site in Jezero Crater.

Within the convention, the workforce of scientists introduced they’d title the placement in honor of their “colleague, mentor and chief,” Jakob van Zyl.

Van Zyl handed away of a coronary heart assault in August of final 12 months and joined JPL in 1986. Ingenuity was one in all his closing tasks and Bobby Braun – JPL’s director for planetary science – mentioned the engineer was the “guiding pressure” to their workforce.

As soon as the rover is charged, has survived a frigid Martian evening, and is able to attempt to fly, Perseverance will obtain and relay flight directions to the helicopter. 

“A number of components will decide the exact time for the flight, together with modeling of native wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance. Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all closing self-checks look good, elevate off,” NASA wrote in a Tuesday information launch. “After climbing at a price of about 3 ft per second…the helicopter will hover at 10 ft…above the floor for as much as 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and contact again down on the Martian floor.”

A number of hours later, Perseverance will cross knowledge and presumably pictures and video from its cameras to the JPL workforce to find out whether or not or not their first flight was successful.

Utilizing what’s offered to them, the engineers will then perceive how finest to proceed.

“Each step now we have taken since this journey started six years in the past has been uncharted territory within the historical past of plane,” Balaram mentioned. “And whereas getting deployed to the floor can be a giant problem, surviving that first evening on Mars alone, with out the rover defending it and holding it powered, can be a fair larger one.”

What might go incorrect?

If there’s an error or mistake, the method could take longer. Assuming that Ingenuity makes it via evening one, nevertheless, the workforce will spend the following few Martian days wiggling rotor blades, testing the rotor system and verifying the efficiency of the inertial measurement unit.


Worries apart, it is all making historical past. 

In recognition of that, a small quantity of the fabric that lined one of many wings of the Wright brothers’ Flyer is aboard Ingenuity – adhered beneath the helicopter’s photo voltaic panel with an insulative tape.

Curiously, the Apollo 11 NASA crew flew a unique piece of the fabric and a splinter of wooden from the Wright Flyer through the July 1969 Moon Touchdown.

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