The flight of the craft on April 25 was carried out at speeds and distances beyond what had never been demonstrated before, even in tests on Earth.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther on Sunday, April 25, 2021 than in any test it has undergone on Earth. The helicopter took off at 4:31 a.m. EDT (1:31 a.m. PDT), or 12:33 p.m. local March time, climbing to 5 meters (16 feet) – the same altitude as its second flight. Then it zipped down for 50 yards, a bit more half the length of a football field, reaching a maximum speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second).
After data returned from Mars starting at 10:16 a.m. EDT (7:16 a.m. PDT), the Ingenuity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California were delighted to see the helicopter take off out of the sky. of view. They are already digging through a wealth of information gathered from this third flight that will inform not only of additional Ingenuity flights, but also of possible rotorcraft on Mars in the future.
âToday’s flight was what we had planned, and yet it was just amazing,â said Dave Lavery, project program director for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA headquarters in Washington. “With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will add an aerial dimension to future missions to Mars.”
The Mastcam-Z imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, stationed at “View on Van ZylAnd serving as a communication base station, captured video from Ingenuity. In the coming days, segments of this video will be sent back to Earth showing most of the helicopter’s 80-second journey through its flight zone.
The Ingenuity team pushed the helicopter to the limits by adding instructions for capturing more photos, including from the color camera, which captured its first footage on Flight Two. As with everything related to these flights, the additional steps are intended to provide information that could be used by future air missions.
The helicopter’s black-and-white navigation camera, meanwhile, tracks the surface features below, and this flight put the on-board processing of those images to the test. Ingenuity’s flight computer, which operates the craft autonomously based on instructions sent hours before data is received on Earth, uses the same resources as the cameras. Over greater distances, more images are taken. If Ingenuity flies too fast, the flight algorithm cannot follow the surface characteristics.
âThis is the first time that we have seen the camera algorithm work over a long distance,â said MiMi Aung, helicopter project manager at JPL. âYou can’t do this in a test chamber.â
JPL’s vacuum chambers are filled with vaporous air, mostly carbon dioxide, to simulate the thin Martian atmosphere; they don’t have room for even a small helicopter to move more than about 1.6 feet (half a meter) in any direction. This posed a challenge: Would the camera follow the ground as intended while moving at a higher speed on the Red Planet?
A lot of things have to go just for the camera to do it, said Gerik Kubiak, JPL software engineer. In addition to focusing on the algorithm that tracks the characteristics of the surface, the team needs the correct image exposures: dust can obscure images and interfere with camera performance. And the software must work consistently.
âWhen you’re in the test chamber, you’ve got an emergency landing button right there and all of those safety features,â Kubiak said. âWe have done everything we can to prepare Ingenuity to fly freely without these features.â
With this third flight in the history books, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team plans to plan their fourth flight in a few days.
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter was built by JPL, which is also managing this technology demonstration project for NASA headquarters. It is supported by the Directorate of Scientific Missions of NASA, the Directorate of Aeronautical Research Missions and the Directorate of Space Technology Missions. NASA’s Ames Research Center and Langley Research Center provided extensive flight performance analysis and technical assistance during the development of Ingenuity. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, Snapdragon and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. The Mars Helicopter Delivery System was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Space Systems, Denver.
Contacts for news media
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.