Helicopter wit calls home from Mars

HOUSTON (CNN) – The Ingenuity helicopter, companion and traveling companion of NASA’s Perseverance rover, registered with a good report and is “operating as expected,” according to the agency.

If successful, Ingenuity will be the first helicopter to fly over another planet, leading to an “extraterrestrial moment for the Wright brothers,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The rover landed safely on the surface of Mars Thursday after its launch from Earth on July 30. Perseverance has already submitted an impressive set of images to show that she is safe and ready to go through a “verification” phase before beginning her journey across the surface. .

Now, the mission team has heard directly from the helicopter for the first time, and it is good news.

The device is currently hidden under the rover and attached to Perseverance’s belly. The rover is roughly the size of an SUV, while the helicopter only weighs about 4 pounds.

The helicopter was able to call home via the rover by sending data via NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which acts as a communications relay between Mars and Earth and has been orbiting the red planet since 2006.

The ingenuity is comfortable where it is and will not be leaving the rover anytime soon for a test flight. The helicopter will remain attached to the vehicle for 30 to 60 days.

“Ingenuity, the helicopter from Mars that I carry is working as expected. I am currently charging it, but once I leave it, it will depend solely on its solar panels. If it survives the brutally cold Martian nights, the team will attempt flight,” it said a cheep from the Twitter account Perseverance.

“There are two costly elements we are looking for in the data: the state of charge of the Ingenuity batteries, as well as confirmation that the base station is working as designed, instructing the heaters to turn off and on to maintain the electronics of the helicopter within expected limits. range, “said Tim Canham, Ingenuity Mars helicopter operations leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

“They both seem to be working very well. With this positive report, we will move forward with (Saturday) charging the helicopter batteries.”

The device needs to turn on and store energy so it can stay warm and maintain other vital functions during cold Martian nights once the rover deposits the helicopter on the surface of the red planet. Then the ingenuity will be alone.

And it will have to endure nights when temperatures can drop to negative 130 degrees Fahrenheit. As Elton John sings in “Rocket Man”, Mars is, in fact, as cold as hell.

Maintaining battery function and health will be critical to helping the helicopter survive the frigid Martian weather before attempting any further test flights. A total of five test flights are planned over a 31-day period once the rover finds the correct “helipad”, or a good flat spot, to deposit the Engine.

As long as ingenuity is coupled with perseverance, the helicopter can give its batteries a boost. The helicopter has six lithium-ion batteries. Once detached from the rover, the helicopter’s solar panel will charge those batteries.

Ingenuity’s first flight will be short, only about 20 seconds of flight suspended from the ground. But it will be a historic moment. Like the first Martian rover, Sojourner, Ingenuity is a demonstration of technology, an experiment. Showing that this concept can work could lead to the development of helicopters that could act as scouts for both rovers and human missions to Mars in the future.

If that first flight is successful, “more than 90% of the project objectives will have been achieved,” according to NASA.

Subsequent flights could last longer and test more capabilities of the helicopter. It carries two cameras that can provide aerial images. Perseverance will also train its cameras at Ingenuity to capture the sights and sounds, including video, of these historic flights.

“We are in uncharted territory, but this team is used to that,” MiMi Aung, project manager for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL, said in a statement. “Almost every milestone from here to the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each must be successful for us to move on to the next. We will enjoy this good news for now, but then we have to get back to work. “

The-CNN-Wire ™ and © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner company. All rights reserved.

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