Clever helicopter aces 50th flight to Mars

(CNN) Ingenuity Helicopter Reaches Biggest Milestone on Mars The tiny helicopter successfully completed its record-breaking 50th flight on Thursday, just days shy of the second anniversary of its maiden flight.

It reached an altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) above Mars for the first time on April 19, 2021, and circled for about half a minute before touching down again. That 39-second mission marked the first powered, controlled flight of a rotorcraft on another planet.

Since then, Intelligence has exceeded all expectations, going from a technology demonstration designed for five spacecraft to an airborne scout for the Perseverance rover as it explores an ancient lake and river delta on Mars.

During its 50th flight, Ingenuity traveled more than 1,057 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds to reach a new record of 59 feet (18 meters). The helicopter touched down near the 0.5 mile wide (800 meter wide) Belwa crater.

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Intelligence team continues and learns about the flight operations of the first flight on another world,” said Lori Glaze. NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in a statement.

Since arriving at Mars with the Perseverance rover in February 2021, Intelligence has flown 89 minutes and 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers). That is no mean feat The 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter was built using off-the-shelf smartphone apps and cameras.

“When we first flew, we thought we were incredibly lucky to get five flights out,” said Teddy Tzanedos, head of the Ingenuity Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “

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Dangerous journey

The journey hasn’t been easy, but intelligence has “proved to be very strong so far,” Tzanetos told CNN. The rotor craft has faced many challenges since it first separated from the belly of the Perseverance rover two years ago.

The Tuesday is the dangerous cold of winter The dust storms that blocked its solar panel have passed, but the helicopter’s power still runs low at night.

Each morning, the helicopter base station looks for Ingenuity’s signal aboard the Perseverance rover at the time the helicopter is expected to “wake up,” waiting for a sign that its aerial scout is still operating.

But Ingenuity’s solar panels, batteries and rotor system are healthy. The helicopter “is still cool,” Tzanetos said. “We look forward to continuing to push that envelope.”

Since the helicopter took off The flat floor of Jezero Crater For the river delta in January, Its flights have grown more challenging. Ingenuity flew over unknown and rugged terrain, landing sites beset by potential hazards.

“We are no longer in Mars Kansas,” JPL’s Ingenuity Operations Lead Josh Anderson said in a statement.

“We’re flying over the dry remains of an ancient river, filled with sand dunes, boulders and rocks and surrounded by mountains that can feed us lunch. And recently we’ve upgraded our navigation software. Safe airfields, every plane is still white-knuckle.”

Ingenuity’s team is already planning its next batch Airplanes Because to keep in touch with a fast-moving rover that can cover hundreds of meters in a single day, the helicopter needs to be at the right distance.

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“Intelligence relies on persistence to act as a communication relay between mission controllers at JBL,” Anderson said. “If the rover gets too far ahead or disappears behind a mountain, we’ll lose communications. The rover team has work to do and a schedule. So ingenuity is essential and staying ahead of the curve as much as possible.”

Looking ahead

The Perseverance rover is moving past a region containing hydrated silica, which may contain information about the past of hot, wet Mars and possible signs of life billions of years ago. Next up is Mount Julian, which will give the rover a panoramic view over Belva Crater.

Intelligence’s journey has demonstrated how useful aircraft can be in space missions, whether it’s searching for places that rovers can’t go or helping plan a safe route to the next destination. The tiny helicopter’s data has provided a treasure trove of data for engineers working on future Mars helicopters, two of which will play a role in helping Send diligently collected samples back to Earth.

The helicopter crew is closely monitoring Ingenuti’s health as some of its parts are beginning to show signs of wear and tear.

“We’ve come so far and we want to go farther,” Zanetos said. “But our time on Mars has been limited from the beginning, and we know that every operational day is a blessing. Whether the work of intelligence ends tomorrow, next week, or in a few months is something no one can predict right now. What I can predict. When that happens, We’ll have one heck of a celebration.”

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