Meet the mini space helicopter that will send images of Mars this spring

Monday’s videos of Perseverance’s successful landing on Mars in Jezero crater were just the opening act of what will make NASA’s fastest and best-equipped rover for scientific research on the Red Planet.

The second act will be a new type of helicopter, also known as an eVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing) aircraft. Weighing in at just four pounds, Ingenuity made a nearly 300 million mile journey to Mars, joined by the underbelly of perseverance. Nicknamed Ginny ”, the VTOL is powered by six lithium-ion batteries that make up just 15 percent of its weight and are rechargeable from the solar panel on top of the fuselage.

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“Classified as a technology demonstration, Ingenuity will conduct five flights, beginning sometime in April,” said Steven Agid, an aerospace engineer at the Kennedy Space Center. Robb Report. “Starting with simple vertical lift operations, each flight will last up to 90 seconds, from 10 to 15 feet above the surface of Mars. Subsequent testing will expand Ingenuity’s flight envelope, with the longest flight covering three soccer fields. “

The ingenuity is only 19.2 inches tall, with four carbon fiber blades arranged on two 4-foot-long counter-rotating rotors that rotate at about 2,400 RPM, or about five times faster than a typical helicopter, due to the ultra-fine atmosphere of Mars. With approximately five inches of ground clearance, Ingenuity will carry two cameras: one in color with horizon views for terrain imaging and one in black and white for navigation.

Although Ingenuity can communicate with NASA through Perseverance, the flight tests will not be remotely controlled by Cape Canaveral. It takes almost 12 minutes for a signal from Earth to reach Mars and the same for a response. With such a delay, eVTOL was pre-programmed with test scripts that will run when it receives trigger signals.

To mitigate every conceivable risk associated with a first flight in an unpredictable and uncontrollable environment, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) conducted an extensive simulation campaign at its CalTech research center in Pasadena, California. From wind tunnel testing to conditions that recreate extreme temperatures on Mars and much lower gravity, Ingenuity maintained all the known conditions that you are likely to find on the Red Planet.

While the ideal conditions for another mission to Mars are 26 months away, Ingenuity’s validation of its flight characteristics and capabilities on the Red Planet will give NASA and JPL plenty of time to design, build and test the next eVTOL to fly. In mars. Subsequent missions will be cargo and, finally, the electric aircraft will be used to transport people.

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