NASA’s Mars helicopter ready for pre-flight checkouts – Spaceflight Now

The Ingenuity helicopter on the floor of Mars. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mission controllers plan to unlock the blades on NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter and spin them as much as greater than 2,000 rpm for a take a look at later this week, a little bit of “calisthenics”  earlier than the rotorcraft’s first flight within the ambiance of Mars as quickly as this weekend, the helicopter’s operations lead mentioned Monday.

NASA’s Perseverance rover deposited the rotorcraft onto the Martian floor Saturday. Since then, the helicopter has began charging its lithium-ion batteries utilizing solar energy and the craft seems wholesome after surviving surviving the primary frigid nights alone on Mars.

The helicopter had been hooked up to the stomach of the Perseverance rover since final April, earlier than the missions launch in July. The Ingenuity helicopter drew energy from the rover’s nuclear battery for its survival heaters till floor groups at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Saturday despatched instructions to disconnect the ultimate bolt and electrical cables linking the rotorcraft with Perseverance.

The 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter’s 4 carbon-composite legs dropped the ultimate few inches to the floor of Mars, and the Perseverance rover drove about 16 ft (5 meters) to permit daylight to wash the rotorcraft’s photo voltaic panel and start charging its batteries.

To date, the efficiency of Ingenuity’s photo voltaic array is “trying superb,” mentioned Tim Canham, the helicopter’s operations lead at JPL.

Canham mentioned Monday that floor groups at JPL have been “dancing and cheering” after they bought affirmation that the helicopter was alive on the floor of Mars.

The $80 million helicopter is a expertise demonstration. It goals to grow to be the primary airborne automobile to attain a powered flight within the ambiance of one other planet. However the helicopter’s diminutive stature — pushed largely by measurement and mass necessities wanted to suit on the stomach of the rover and nonetheless have the ability to fly in Mars’s skinny ambiance — introduced challenges to designers making an attempt to make sure it might face up to the acute temperatures on the Pink Planet.

The temperatures at Jezero , the place Perseverance landed Feb. 18, can dip as little as minus 130 levels Fahrenheit (minus 90 levels Celsius).

“Ping! Proper on time, it began speaking on the radio,” Canham mentioned in a webinar on the Ingenuity mission hosted by JPL. “We’ve bought that very superior milestone behind us. Now, we’re actually trying ahead to that first flight as a result of that’s that next-level problem.”

“That is the primary time that Ingenuity has been by itself on the floor of Mars,” mentioned MiMi Aung, Ingenuity challenge supervisor at JPL. “However we now have affirmation that we now have the appropriate insulation, the appropriate heaters, and sufficient vitality in its battery to outlive the chilly night time, which is an enormous for the crew. We’re excited to proceed to arrange Ingenuity for its first flight take a look at.”

Engineers are monitoring Ingenuity’s vitality and thermal situation over the helicopter’s first few days on the floor. NASA says the information will groups fine-tune the helicopter’s thermal management system to assist it survive chilly Martian nights all through a collection of as much as 5 take a look at flights that would stretch into early Could.

The helicopter’s rotor blades, which span 3.9 ft (1.2 meters) tip-to-tip, have been locked since Ingenuity was nonetheless on Earth. Floor groups at JPL will command the helicopter to unlock the blades .

Engineers can even take a look at the motors that drive the rotors and take a look at the helicopter’s autonomous navigation system, which is able to use an inertial measurement unit to find out its orientation, a digicam to find out its location, and a sophisticated processor that may obtain inputs and modify Ingenuity’s flight trajectory 500 instances per second.

There will likely be a “wiggle” take a look at of the blades and a spin-up of the rotors whereas the helicopter stays on the bottom. Canham likened these assessments to “helicopter calisthenics.”

Within the meantime, Perseverance will head for an statement location no less than 200 ft, or 60 meters, away from Ingenuity’s flight zone, which itself is in regards to the size of a soccer discipline. The flight zone consists of an airfield, a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) space the place the helicopter will take off and land. Engineers the airfield web site for its flat topography free of enormous rocks.

NASA needs to make sure the Perseverance rover is a protected distance away from the rotorcraft when it takes off. Utilizing a wi-fi transmitter and receiver, the Perseverance rover will relay instructions and knowledge between floor controllers on Earth and the Ingenuity helicopter.

“Because the rover drives to the statement submit, we have to ensure that it could possibly nonetheless talk with the helicopter,” Canham mentioned.

Ingenuity’s first flight is focused for no sooner than the night of April 11, with knowledge confirming the end result of the hop anticipated again on Earth the following day

Engineers plan as much as 5 take a look at flights, beginning with an ascent to an altitude of about 10 ft (Three meters), the place the craft will hover for about 30 seconds earlier than making a flip and touchdown again the place it took off. Additional take a look at flights will attain a most altitude of about 16 ft (5 meters), and introduce ahead movement to hold the helicopter down the flight zone and again to its takeoff location.

“If we will go up and hover and be steady and are available again and land safely, then that will likely be a serious second of triumph for the helicopter crew,” Canham mentioned.

NASA has put aside one month for the Ingenuity helicopter’s demonstration flights, and that clock began when Perseverance launched the rotorcraft onto the floor of Mars. The airborne drone will try to fly in an environment simply 1% the thickness of Earth’s. To do this, the helicopter’s rotors will spin five-to-ten instances quicker than a typical helicopter flying in Earth’s ambiance.

Ingenuity doesn’t carry any scientific devices. It has black-and- and coloration cameras to help in autonomous navigation and collect aerial imagery of the Perseverance rover’s touchdown web site at Jezero Crater, which harbored a lake of liquid water greater than Three billion in the past.

The helicopter will likely be working by itself on every of its flights. The one-way journey time for radio alerts between Earth and Mars is at present greater than 14 minutes.

Whereas the cameras on-board Ingenuity will take footage throughout every flight, a zoomable digicam on the Perseverance rover will try to snap images and video of the helicopter because it takes off and lands.

NASA engineers can also try to make use of the rover’s directional microphone to document audio throughout the flights. However sound waves don’t journey as nicely by Mars’s skinny ambiance, and it’s not clear whether or not the microphone will detect any sounds from helicopter’s fast-spinning rotors, mentioned Farah Alibay, who oversees the Perseverance rover’s actions related to the Ingenuity flight assessments.

Electronic mail the writer.

Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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