The Red Planet rotorcraft will go from demonstrating the possibility of a flight on Mars to demonstrating the flight operations that future planes could use.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has a new mission. After proving that powered and controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new phase of demonstration of operations, exploring how aerial detection and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.
This new phase will begin after the helicopter has completed its next two flights. The decision to add an operations demonstration is the result of the Perseverance rover being ahead of schedule with thorough checks of all vehicle systems since it landed on February 18 and its science team chose a nearby crater plot for his first detailed explorations. With the Mars helicopter’s energy, telecommunications, and in-flight navigation systems performing beyond expectations, an opportunity presented itself to allow the helicopter to continue to explore its capabilities with an operating demonstration , without significant impact on the planning of the rover.
“The demonstration of the Ingenuity technology was a resounding success,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Missions Directorate. “As Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it for the benefit of future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the near-term science goals of the Perseverance rover team. “
The operations demonstration will begin in about two weeks with the helicopter’s sixth flight. By then, Ingenuity will be in a transitional phase that includes its fourth and fifth forays into the crimson skies of Mars. Flight four will send the rotorcraft approximately 436 feet (133 meters) south to collect aerial images of a potential new landing area before returning to land at Wright Brothers Field, the name of the Martian airfield on which Ingenuity’s first flight took place. This 873-foot (266-meter) round-trip effort would exceed the range, speed, and duration marks achieved in the third flight. Ingenuity has been scheduled to perform a fourth flight on Friday, departing at 10:46 a.m. EDT (7:46 a.m. PDT, 12:30 p.m. local March time) and the first data is due to be returned at 1:39 p.m. EDT (10:39 a.m. PDT). The fifth flight would send Ingenuity on a one-way mission, landing at the new site. If ingenuity remains healthy after these flights, the next phase can begin.
Change of direction
Ingenuity’s transition from a technology demonstration to an operational demonstration brings with it a new domain of flight. Along with these one-way flights, there will be more precision maneuvering, greater use of its aerial observation capabilities and more risk in general.
The change also means that Ingenuity will require less support from the Perseverance rover team, who are looking for targets in the future to take rock and sediment samples in search of ancient microscopic life. April 26 – Mission 66, or Martian Day – Perseverance traveled 10 meters in an attempt to identify targets.
“With the short drive, we’ve already started our trip south to a place that the science team believes deserves investigation and our first sampling,” said Ken Farley, project scientist for the Perseverance rover at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “We will spend the next few hundred soils running our first science campaign looking for interesting rock outcrops along this 2 kilometer (1.24 mile) patch of crater floor before heading probably north and then west to the fossil river delta of the Jezero crater.
With short trips expected for short-term perseverance, Ingenuity can perform flights that land near the rover’s current location or its next scheduled parking spot. The helicopter can use these opportunities to make aerial observations of rover science targets, potential rover routes and inaccessible features while capturing stereo images for digital elevation maps. The lessons learned from these efforts will provide significant benefits to future mission planners. These reconnaissance flights are a bonus and not a requirement for Perseverance to accomplish its scientific mission.
The rate of flights during the demonstration phase of Ingenuity’s operations will slow down from once every few days to approximately once every two to three weeks, and incursions will be timed to avoid interfering with Perseverance science operations. . The team will assess flight operations after 30 sols and complete flight operations no later than the end of August. This moment will give the rover team time to wrap up their planned science activities and prepare for the solar conjunction – the mid-October period when Mars and Earth are on either side of the Sun, blocking out communications.
“We have so appreciated the support provided by the Perseverance rover team during our technology demonstration phase,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “We now have a chance to get things done, demonstrating for future robotic and even crewed missions the benefits of having a partner nearby who can provide a different perspective – a view from the sky. We’re going to take this opportunity and run with it – and fly with it.
Learn more about ingenuity
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter was built by JPL, which is also managing this technology demonstration project for NASA headquarters. It is supported by the science, aeronautics and space technology missions directorates of NASA. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical support during the development of Ingenuity. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Space designed and manufactured the Mars helicopter delivery system.
At NASA Headquarters, Dave Lavery is the program manager for the Ingenuity Mars helicopter. At JPL, MiMi Aung is the Project Manager and J. “Bob” Balaram is the Chief Engineer.
For more information on Ingenuity:
Learn more about perseverance
A key objective of the Perseverance mission to Mars is astrobiology, including looking for signs of old microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and hide Martian rock and regolith (shattered rocks and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples on the surface and return them to Earth for further analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon-to-Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the red planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, Calif., Built and manages the operations of the Perseverance rover.
To learn more about perseverance:
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.