Ingenuity shifts from technology to operations demo after successful fourth flight – SpaceNews

WASHINGTON — With 4 flights now full, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter will transition from being strictly a know-how demonstration to a check of its means to work in with the Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity carried out its fourth flight April 30, staying aloft for 117 seconds. The helicopter flew to an altitude of 5 meters, then went 133 meters downrange and again earlier than . The flight set data for length within the air and distance traveled.

The flight was scheduled for April 29, however telemetry returned later that confirmed that the helicopter by no means took off. Undertaking engineers imagine {that a} timer concern, just like one found throughout a preflight check in early April, stored the helicopter grounded. They developed a technique to get across the timer glitch with out updating the helicopter’s software program, a way they beforehand mentioned ought to work 85% of time the time.

“There’s a bug, and it is a workaround for the bug,” Bob Balaram, Ingenuity chief engineer on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, mentioned throughout an April 30 press convention concerning the helicopter shortly earlier than information confirming the profitable flight arrived on Earth. “It labored out completely effectively 3 times and yesterday it didn’t fairly work.”

The profitable fourth flight now permits Ingenuity to maneuver into a brand new section of its mission. NASA initially deliberate to conduct as much as 5 check flights over a marketing campaign lasting 30 sols, or Martian days, after which the venture would finish, regardless of the state of the helicopter. That will permit the Perseverance rover, supporting the helicopter flights, to maneuver on to its major science mission.

Nonetheless, on the JPL briefing, company officers mentioned Ingenuity would proceed to function past the unique month. “After assessing the Perseverance science technique, there’s room to develop the Ingenuity demonstration into a brand new section,” mentioned Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division. “Ingenuity goes to transition from a know-how demonstration, the place we show the technical capabilities of the helicopter, to an operations demonstration.”

In that new demonstration, Ingenuity will assist Perseverance because it begins its science mission. “We’ll now consider the utility of an aerial , and work on operational merchandise,” mentioned MiMi Aung, Ingenuity venture supervisor. That would come with aerial observations of science for the rover and scouting paths for the rover to take.

That effort will begin with the helicopter’s subsequent flight, anticipated in a couple of . The venture workforce will use photographs taken on the fourth flight to determine a brand new “airfield,” or touchdown spot, for Ingenuity. The helicopter will then take off on a one-way flight from its present touchdown zone to the brand new one, which would be the base of operations for the subsequent section of the mission.

The prolonged mission is made attainable partly due to the superb efficiency of Ingenuity. “The technical efficiency has been incredible, and exceeding all of our expectations,” Balaram mentioned. “We had in our thoughts that there could be some points.” The one concern, he mentioned, was the timer glitch.

He famous the solar-powered helicopter has no consumables that will restrict its life. The most important concern is probably going thermal stresses from the day-night cycle on Mars affecting industrial off-the-shelf components used on the helicopter. “The expectation is that, sooner or later with sufficient thermal biking, one thing — a joint or one thing — will snap,” he mentioned.

The opposite main issue that allowed the prolonged mission is a change in plans for Perseverance itself. “Initially, we thought we’d be driving away from the placement that we landed at,” mentioned Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance rover deputy venture supervisor. As a substitute, scientists wish to stay within the space for months, together with accumulating the primary samples the rover will cache for later return to Earth.

Ingenuity operations might be restricted, although, throughout this operational demonstration to attenuate the impact it has on Perseverance. Whereas Ingenuity had been flying each three to 4 days, the mission now expects to carry out just one or two flights over the subsequent month, as soon as the helicopter flies to its new airfield. Perseverance additionally received’t be taking photographs of the helicopter in flight because it had on earlier flights.

“We hope we are able to function Ingenuity in a not-to-interfere foundation with the science mission, in a approach that, so long as it’s accessible and alive, that we’ll be capable of proceed,” Trosper mentioned.

That operational is scheduled to final 30 sols, however NASA is open to persevering with it for longer if the helicopter stays in good situation and helps Perseverance. “We’re going to observe the efficiency, we’re going to see the type of information merchandise that we are able to get again, and see how the 2 flight programs work with one another,” Glaze mentioned. “After that 30-sol interval, we’ll assess the place we’re.” Glaze added the prolonged mission may have solely a “very minimal” value given the decreased tempo of operations.

“We actually do anticipate some finite life” for Ingenuity, Aung mentioned, “so it is going to be a race between how lengthy these components shock us in surviving and, in doing these operational eventualities, we are going to naturally be pushing the bounds of Ingenuity.”

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