Very early this In the morning, NASA flew a small drone helicopter that its latest rover took to Mars, marking humanity’s first controlled and powered flight to another planet. The ingenuity blocked the landing and the space engineers are delighted.
The ingenuity rose at about a meter per second, up to three meters – about 10 feet above Mars. The helicopter hung up as steadily as its state-of-the-art electronics would allow, then landed where it had been 40 seconds earlier. Then Ingenuity sent its Earth Engineers a message they had been looking for for nearly a decade: Mission Accomplished. The hovering drone returned black-and-white video of its own shadow, and the Perseverance rover’s high-resolution camera took photos of the flight and landing from a distance.
“We can now tell that human beings flew a rotorcraft to another planet,” Mimi Aung, the project manager, told her team after the flight as she stood in front of a giant wall art that read DARE MIGHTY THINGS, the message that had also been encoded in the rover’s descent parachute.
The machines that humanity sent to Mars have become more and more sophisticated since the first rover, Sojourner, rolled in 1997. This robot put the first wheels on Mars, and its cousins, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity, followed their series of scientific experiments. But perseverance – the greatest of the group, which landed in february– circled the red planet with a helicopter in his stomach. Ingenuity is NASA’s first attempt to fly a drone to another planet. The space agency and the entrepreneurs who helped design it want to learn from its flight data to design larger exploratory flyers for future missions.
Ingenuity is like a brilliant mosquito on all fours swinging two helicopter blades and a solar panel on its head. He’s about two feet tall, and his 15-inch legs keep him upright on jagged alien terrain. Its four foot wide carbon fiber rotor blades spin ultra fast to transport a body fair big enough to hold a battery, sensors, cameras, and the brain that powers every part in concert.
Flying on Mars is very different from flying on Earth. Gravity is 62% weaker there, but the atmosphere is 99% thinner and offers much less lift. It would be like flying a helicopter at an altitude of 100,000 feet on Earth, where the altitude flight record is less than 41,000 feet for a helicopter and 85,000 feet for an airplane. Ingenuity’s rotor blades spin at up to 2,537 rotations per minute to compensate for this – that’s about five times faster than helicopter blades that spin on Earth.
Due to its weak atmosphere, daily temperatures on Mars can vary by more than 150 degrees, making air density highly variable. Engineers had to account for this unreliable air cushion. “At sea level here on Earth, the pressure doesn’t change much,” said Ben Pipenberg, aeromechanical engineer at AeroVironment. The Californian aviation company has been working with JPL since 2013 to bring the idea of the helicopter to life. But on Mars, he continues, “From our current operating point, we can vary the operating pressure by about 30-40% up or down and continue to fly properly.
Every part of the helicopter is designed to maximize function and minimize weight. The blades weigh a total of 70 grams, less than a deck of cards. The entire $ 85 million drone weighs about four pounds, less than a gallon of ice cream.
The real mission of Ingenuity is to demonstrate flight on Mars and to record engineering data on the operation of each of its mechanical and electronic parts – it is an experiment. “We flew into an imaginary Mars,” Ingenuity chief engineer Bob Balaram told WIRED before the flight. “Imagined in our computers; imagined in our supercomputers; imagined in simulations; imagined in our test facilities here on Earth. We want to see what we are missing. “