NASA Mars Helicopter Engine Shifts Into New Phase Of Operational Test By Reuters

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By Steve Gorman LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – After surpassing all expectations with its four initial test flights, the first by a plane over the surface of another planet, NASA’s little Mars robot helicopter Ingenuity is ready to graduate. The US space agency announced Friday that Ingenuity is shifting from a pure proof-of-concept technology demonstration mode to a more ambitious mission that measures how aerial exploration and other functions could benefit future scientific exploration of the Red Planet. . The planned length of Ingenuity’s 30-day project was described during a briefing from its mission control center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NYSE 🙂 (JPL) near Los Angeles, where it was designed and built. the twin-rotor aircraft. The new “operational demonstration” phase of the 4-pound (1.8 kg) solar helicopter began with its fourth takeoff in a nearly two-minute flight on Friday morning. Data coming back from Ingenuity later in the day showed that it covered one round. – Travel distance of 872 feet (266 meters) – roughly the length of three football fields – at a speed of nearly 8 miles per hour (3.5 meters per second). The helicopter flew at a height of about 16 feet (5 meters), considered ideal for the ground surveillance work it was conducting in the air and coinciding with the altitude of its second and third flights. The latest outing broke speed and distance records set Sunday by Flight No. 3, which was farther and faster than the test flights made on Earth. By comparison, Ingenuity’s first 39-second flight on Mars on April 19 climbed just 10 feet (3 meters), hovered in place briefly, and descended straight down to land. Though humble in terms of sheer metrics, NASA compared the achievement to the historic first controlled flight by the Wright brothers of their motor plane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. For NASA, the challenge was to power a plane. in the ultra-thin air of Mars, whose atmosphere is only 1% denser than Earth’s, making it especially difficult to generate aerodynamic lift. To compensate Ingenuity-equipped engineers with rotor blades that are larger and spin much faster than would be needed on Earth. The miniature helicopter traveled to Mars strapped to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance science exploration vehicle, a six-wheeled astrobiology laboratory that landed on February 18 in a vast basin called Jezero Crater after a nearly seven-month journey through the space. Except for a glitch in computer software that has delayed Ingenuity flights twice, the helicopter has operated flawlessly, meeting all technical targets on its first three flights on Mars, said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at JPL. “And now it’s like Ingenuity is graduating from a technology demonstration phase to the new operations demonstration phase,” he said. On its last trip, Ingenuity took 60 black-and-white images and several color photos of the Martian surface as it hummed over the planet’s reddish-orange landscape. The images will be converted into three-dimensional digital elevation maps for use in selecting a new take-off and landing zone suitable for subsequent flights. Similar tracking operations could also be used to help mission managers conduct low-altitude scientific observations of sites not easily accessible by a rover, and to search for preferred rover routes to various surface destinations. The next flight, No. 5, will send Ingenuity on a one-way trip to a new “airfield” in two to three weeks as engineers continue to push the helicopter beyond its design limits, Aung said. However, the mission managers probably will not push the plane as hard as they would have done without its new “operations demonstration” mission, he told reporters. Meanwhile, JPL will continue to prepare Perseverance for its main mission, a search for traces of fossilized microorganisms in the Jezero crater. Scientists hope to begin collecting Martian rock samples there in July.