NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has cleared its initial hurdle before the first attempt at controlled and powered flight of an aircraft on another planet.
On Monday, the agency reported that the helicopter had survived its first frosty night outside the Perseverance Mars rover on the rocky surface of the red planet.
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In Jezero Crater, where Perseverance landed nearly two months ago, nighttime temperatures can drop to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
At that temperature, unprotected electrical components could have frozen or cracked and the solar power batteries needed for planned test flights could have been damaged in the process.
NASA announced last week that the first of its maximum of five historical flights, within a 30-Martian time limit, will be attempted by the four-pound helicopter no earlier than April 11.
While the device was initially charged with Perseverance, the autonomous helicopter will now rely on the sun to power itself.
Unlike perseverance, ingenuity does not carry scientific instruments.
Perseverance, which has multiple cameras and microphones to take pictures and take audio and video, will observe Ingenuity’s flight characteristics from the “Van Zyl Overlook”, named for the mentor and colleague of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the NASA, Jakob van Zyl, who passed away. unexpectedly in August 2020.
Until then, Ingenuity will collect data on the performance of its power and thermal control systems to ensure that the vehicle can survive each night for the duration of the flight experiment period.
On Wednesday, the restrictions that have secured its rotor blades will be released and the following days will include more testing of the helicopter’s blades and engine.
In addition, the JPL team will have to monitor Ingenuity’s on-board computers, power from solar panels and six lithium-ion batteries and its inertial measurement unit – an electronic device that measures the orientation and angular velocity of a body. .
The helicopter will then be ready for take off at its 33-by-33-foot “airfield.”
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“This is the first time that Ingenuity has been alone on the surface of Mars,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, said in Monday’s statement. “But now we have confirmation that we have the proper insulation, the proper heaters and enough battery power to survive the cold night, which is a great victory for the team.”
“We are excited to continue preparing Ingenuity for its first flight test,” he said.