Everything worked! After some difficulty, the Ingenuity mini helicopter soared into the skies of Mars on Monday (7pm), hovered for 30 seconds, and then descended exactly as planned. The flight took place around 4:30 a.m. (Brazilian time) and the first data was received by mission control about three hours later.
With a $ 85 million award for NASA, the project demonstrated the ability of an aircraft to achieve self-sufficient flight on Mars despite an atmosphere less than one hundredth the density of Earth. To do this, the Ingenuity knives had to rotate at 2,500 revolutions per minute, about five times more than a typical helicopter on earth.
In addition to the pictures of Ingenuity itself (“Ingenuity”), the Perseverance Rover (“Perseverance”) also photographed the helicopter in flight.
The Mars helicopter included in the Mars 2020 mission at the last minute is a technological demonstrator. Success is expected to pave the way for future flight missions on Mars. And of course the Ingenuity team had breakdowns before they could make the first flight.
The original plan was that this would happen last Sunday (11). However, an anomaly during the final rotor test caused the US space agency to push until the 14th. The engineering team then performed a workaround analysis and concluded that the software needed to be changed and reinstalled in ingenuity. A process that couldn’t be fast in and of itself, as it depended on Earth Orbiter, Orbiter Perseverance, and Perseverance Ingenuity connections until it could transmit the data packet to its destination. Then install it and restart the on-board computer with it before you can try again. Therefore, the success of the update confirmed the rescheduling of the flight until dawn this Monday.
The technical camera from Ingenuity records its own shadow over the Martian floor during the first flight. (Image credit: NASA)
The physics of aerodynamic flight is well known. But Earth and Mars are two very different planets, which makes the challenge quite unique.
Our planet has two and a half times more intense gravity than its neighbor, which of course makes it easier to get started there. On the other hand, the density of the Martian atmosphere is one hundredth that of the Earth’s atmosphere, which makes the force generated by rotors much less.
MiMi Aung, a Burmese-American engineer who manages the Ingenuity project, was fairly euphoric after receiving the data. “The colleagues asked each milestone reached if they could celebrate, and I said not yet, not yet. Now it’s like this. Celebrate the moment and then get back to work! “
The team is planning up to five flights with Ingenuity and maybe even more if the vehicle continues to withstand the Martian environment, which includes high levels of radiation and cold nights at -90 degrees Celsius.
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