NASA’s Mars helicopter was scheduled to fly five times. Flyed 28 times.

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When it flew away, it was a very large one. ifThe small helicopter will fly up to five Mars skies in 31 days.

But over the past year, a brave little helicopter known as the Ingenuity Martian Sky Episode 28, far exceed expectations and give scientists a new perspective on the red planet. In the past 13 months, it has traveled nearly 4.3 miles and stayed in the air for nearly an hour, reaching a maximum speed of 12.3 mph and a top altitude of 39 feet.

He traversed the crater, taking pictures of hard-to-reach areas, adapting to the changing Martian atmosphere, and serving as a remarkably resilient scout who survived harsh dust storms and cold nights.

Now, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are concerned that a four-pound solar-powered drone on Mars will be nearing the end of its useful life.

Winter begins on Mars. Ingenuity’s solar panels are coated in dust as they fly, so six Li-Ion batteries don’t fully charge. This is the first month since landing on Mars more than a year ago. I missed my scheduled communication session. With Perseverance, the Mars rover sends data and receives commands from Earth.

What’s new with the Percy Mars rover?

Can dusty ingenuity survive the Martian winter, where temperatures routinely drop below minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit? And if not, how should the world remember a tiny helicopter that took $80 million to develop and more than five years to design and build? Those closest to the project say it’s hard to overestimate Ingenuity’s performance over time.

“The helicopter far exceeded our initial expectations,” Lori Glaze, head of NASA’s planetary science division, told the Washington Post.

Given the sparseness of Mars’ atmosphere, the scientists and engineers who studied Ingenuity were not convinced the experiment would succeed. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s deputy director of scientific missions, said at the time that it was an effort that got NASA to find “the right line between crazy and innovative.”

So, when the first flight succeeded on April 19, 2021, NASA heralded it as the Wright Brothers moment. As a tribute, Ingenuity attached a postage stamp-sized piece of cloth from his brother’s aircraft known as the Flyer to the cables beneath the solar panels.

The originality was tied to the lower body of the star of NASA’s most recent Mars mission, Perseverance Rover, and flew to Mars. After traveling nearly 300 million miles in seven months, Perseverance made a dramatic landing under a parachute in February 2021. Underneath the parachute was the code “Dare Mighty Things.”

An SUV-sized rover has landed in an area known as Jezero Crater on Mars. The crater once contained water and could provide clues to the planet’s history and whether life existed there. The rover is collecting rock and soil samples that NASA hopes to return to Earth on future missions. using seven instruments Conduct scientific experiments and test new technologies.

The ingenuity was a demonstration of the technology that would prove useful for future missions and would allow space agency scientists to explore more of the Martian landscape than could be done alone on land.

But piloting an autonomous drone on Mars would be very difficult. The atmosphere there is only 1% of Earth’s density, so to generate lift, the blades of a four-foot-wide helicopter must rotate at blazingly fast speeds of 2,500 revolutions per minute.

“We made this an experiment,” Glaze said. “So it’s not really necessary to have flight-certified parts used on big missions like Perseverance.” some, these as part of a smartphone, even off-the-shelf, so “there was a possibility that it would not work as expected in the environment. So there was a risk that it wouldn’t work.”

As Ingenuity continued to fly, controllers on the ground began to realize that their small projects could do great things. Before the fifth flight, written in a blog post “Our helicopter is much more powerful than we expected. The power system we’ve been fretting over for years is providing enough energy for the heaters to work at night and fly during the day. The off-the-shelf components for our guidance and navigation systems also work just as well as our rotor systems. You name it and it is doing well or even better.”

As it went on, scientists at NASA became increasingly intrigued by the idea that these helicopters could become an integral part of their mission.

“After Ingenuity did very well in their first five flights, Perseverance’s science team came to us and said, ‘We want this helicopter to keep working to help us. It’s about exploring and achieving scientific goals,’ Glaze said.

So NASA decided to keep flying.

On the sixth flight, Ingenuity ran into trouble. The helicopter navigates with a camera taking 30 pictures per second on the terrain below, each with a timestamp. The algorithm predicts what the camera should have seen at a particular moment based on previously captured images. It then calculates the difference between the expected position and the actual position of the ground feature, correcting for position, velocity, and elevation.

However, the timestamp was turned off for this flight. As a result, Ingenuity appeared to be flying a drunk driver who “steered and tilted back and forth in a vibrating pattern”. NASA in the blog.

However, NASA said it was able to land safely within 16 feet of the target “because considerable effort was made to ensure that the helicopter’s flight control system had sufficient ‘stability margin'”. In other words, “In a very real sense, Ingenuity got over the situation.”

It was the same with the 9th episode last July. “Bite your nails” by NASA. Not because Ingenuity broke records for flight time and cruising speed, but because NASA flew over the crater, “an area called ‘Séítah’ that is difficult to traverse with ground vehicles like the Perseverance rover” in a blog post by NASA.

Because the Ingenuity was designed for experimental technical demonstrations, the engineers designed it to fly over mostly flat terrain that was easier to navigate with the onboard camera. But for this flight, Ingenuity had to jump into the crater. This required slowing down and engineers tweaking the search algorithm. The flight was successful, and Ingenuity was able to send back color photos of the area, including a location that some believe “can document the deepest underwater environment in Old Jezero Lake,” NASA wrote. “Given the tight mission schedule, it is unlikely that probes will be able to visit these rocks, so this may provide Ingenuity with a unique opportunity to study these deposits in detail.”

Since then, Ingenuity has continued to overcome obstacles. At some point in September we detected an engine problem. During pre-flight checkout “And I did exactly what I had to do. The flight was cancelled.”

About a month later, the problem was resolved and I was back on the flight.

Another discovery was made in April, when flying over a parachute that slowed the rover for a Mars landing, finding the remains of a shell protecting the rover as it crashed towards the Martian surface. Glaze said that there was a pair of man-made objects on another planet, and the images “captured my mind.” In the past, NASA has been able to spot vehicles on the surface of Mars via spacecraft in far orbit. But here’s a high-definition close-up of a piece of hardware, where parachute-encoded “Dare-Mighty-Things” could be seen through a thin coating of red Martian dust.

Then, ten days later, on April 29, it made its last flight of 28, a 0.25-mile flight that lasted 2.3 minutes. Now NASA wonders if it will be the last.

The space agency believes that the helicopter is unable to fully charge its batteries, leaving the helicopter in a low-power state. When it goes to sleep, the helicopter’s onboard clock resets like a home clock after a power outage. So when the sun came up the next day and I started charging the batteries, the helicopter was out of sync with the rover. wrote.

Then NASA did something special. The mission controller ordered Perseverance to listen to the helicopters almost all of May 5th.

Finally, little Ingenuity called home.

According to NASA, the wireless connection was “stable”, the helicopter was healthy and the battery was charging at 41%.

But, as NASA warns, “one radio session doesn’t mean creativity is out of the woods. Increased dust in the air (reduced light) means that critical components (such as clocks and heaters) are charging the helicopter battery to a level that can be energized all night long.

Perhaps Ingenuity will fly again. maybe.

“At this point, I can’t tell what’s going to happen next,” Glaze said. “We are still trying to find a way to make it fly again. But patience is the main task, so we need to start setting expectations appropriately.”

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