6 Things to Know About NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter – Astrobiology Magazine

In this illustration, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface
On this illustration, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Purple Planet’s floor as NASA’s Perseverance rover (partially seen on the left) rolls away. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The primary helicopter making an attempt to fly on one other planet is a marvel of engineering. Stand up to hurry with these key info about its plans.


When NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover launches from Cape Canaveral Air Drive Station in Florida later this summer time, an progressive experiment will journey alongside: the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Ingenuity might weigh solely about Four kilos (1.eight kilograms), but it surely has some outsize ambitions.

“The Wright Brothers confirmed that powered flight in Earth’s ambiance was attainable, utilizing an experimental plane,” mentioned Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “With Ingenuity, we’re attempting to do the identical for Mars.”Get the Latest JPL News: Subscribe to the Newsletter »

Listed here are six issues you need to know concerning the first helicopter going to a different planet:

1. Ingenuity is a flight take a look at.

Ingenuity is what is called a expertise demonstration – a mission that seeks to check a brand new functionality for the primary time, with restricted scope. Earlier groundbreaking expertise demonstrations embody the Mars Pathfinder rover Sojourner and the tiny Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats that flew by Mars in 2018.

Ingenuity options 4 specifically made carbon-fiber blades, organized into two rotors that spin in reverse instructions at round 2,400 rpm – many instances sooner than a passenger helicopter on Earth. It additionally has progressive photo voltaic cells, batteries, and different elements. Ingenuity doesn’t carry science devices and is a separate experiment from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

2. Ingenuity would be the first plane to aim managed flight on one other planet.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will make historical past’s first try at powered flight on one other planet subsequent spring. It’s driving with the company’s subsequent mission to Mars (the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover) because it launches from Cape Canaveral Air Drive Station later this summer time. Perseverance, with Ingenuity hooked up to its stomach, will land on Mars February 18, 2021

What makes it onerous for a helicopter to fly on Mars? For one factor, Mars’ skinny ambiance makes it troublesome to realize sufficient elevate. As a result of the Mars ambiance is 99% much less dense than Earth’s, Ingenuity needs to be gentle, with rotor blades which can be a lot bigger and spin a lot sooner than what can be required for a helicopter of Ingenuity’s mass on Earth.

It can be bone-chillingly chilly at Jezero Crater, the place Perseverance will land with Ingenuity hooked up to its stomach in February 2021. Nights there dip all the way down to minus 130 levels Fahrenheit (minus 90 levels Celsius). Whereas Ingenuity’s group on Earth has examined the helicopter at Martian temperatures and believes it ought to work on Mars as meant, the chilly will push the design limits of lots of Ingenuity’s components.

As well as, flight controllers at JPL gained’t be capable to management the helicopter with a joystick. Communication delays are an inherent a part of working with spacecraft throughout interplanetary distances. Instructions will must be despatched effectively upfront, with engineering information getting back from the spacecraft lengthy after every flight takes place. Within the meantime, Ingenuity could have a variety of autonomy to make its personal choices about the best way to fly to a waypoint and maintain itself heat.

3. Ingenuity is a becoming title for a robotic that’s the results of excessive creativity.

Highschool pupil Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, Alabama, initially submitted the title Ingenuity for the Mars 2020 rover, earlier than it was named Perseverance, however NASA officers recognized the submission as a terrific title for the helicopter, given how a lot inventive considering the group employed to get the mission off the bottom.

“The ingenuity and brilliance of individuals working onerous to beat the challenges of interplanetary journey are what permit us all to expertise the wonders of area exploration,” Rupani wrote. “Ingenuity is what permits individuals to perform wonderful issues.”

In February 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (proven in an artist’s idea) would be the company’s two latest explorers on Mars. Each have been named by college students as a part of an essay contest. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

4. Ingenuity has already demonstrated feats of engineering.

In cautious steps from 2014 to 2019, engineers at JPL demonstrated that it was attainable to construct an plane that was light-weight, in a position to generate sufficient elevate in Mars’ skinny ambiance, and able to surviving in a Mars-like setting. They examined progressively extra superior fashions in particular area simulators at JPL. In January 2019, the precise helicopter that’s driving with Perseverance to the Purple Planet handed its last flight analysis. Failing any one in every of these milestones would’ve grounded the experiment.

5. The Ingenuity group will depend success one step at a time.

Given the firsts Ingenuity is attempting to perform, the group has an extended list of milestones they’ll have to cross earlier than the helicopter can take off and land within the spring of 2021. The group will have a good time every time they meet one. The milestones embody:

  • Surviving the launch from Cape Canaveral, the cruise to Mars, and touchdown on the Purple Planet
  • Safely deploying to the floor from Perseverance’s stomach
  • Autonomously maintaining heat by way of the intensely chilly Martian nights
  • Autonomously charging itself with its photo voltaic panel

After which Ingenuity will make its first flight try. If the helicopter succeeds in that first flight, the Ingenuity group will try as much as 4 different take a look at flights inside a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) window.

6. If Ingenuity succeeds, future Mars exploration might embody an bold aerial dimension.

When NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter makes an attempt its first take a look at flight on the Purple Planet, the company’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will probably be shut by, as seen on this artist’s idea. Picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity is meant to exhibit applied sciences wanted for flying within the Martian ambiance. If profitable, these applied sciences might allow different superior robotic flying autos that may be included in future robotic and human missions to Mars. They may provide a singular viewpoint not offered by present orbiters excessive overhead or by rovers and landers on the bottom, present high-definition photos and reconnaissance for robots or people, and allow entry to terrain that’s troublesome for rovers to succeed in.

“The Ingenuity group has finished every little thing to check the helicopter on Earth, and we’re wanting ahead to flying our experiment in the actual setting at Mars,” mentioned MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s mission supervisor at JPL. “We’ll be studying all alongside the best way, and it is going to be the final word reward for our group to have the ability to add one other dimension to the best way we discover different worlds sooner or later.”

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