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  Ingenuity helicopter takes flight on Mars (Page 2)

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Author Topic:   Ingenuity helicopter takes flight on Mars
Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-15-2022 06:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA Extends Ingenuity Helicopter Mission

With its recent 21st flight complete, the Red Planet rotorcraft is on its way to setting more records during its second year of operations.

NASA has extended flight operations of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter through September. In the months ahead, history's first aircraft to operate from the surface of another world will support the Perseverance rover's upcoming science campaign exploring the ancient river delta of Jezero Crater. Along the way, it will continue testing its own capabilities to support the design of future Mars air vehicles.

Above: This annotated image depicts the multiple flights – and two different routes – NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter could take on its trip to Jezero Crater’s delta. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/USGS)

The announcement comes on the heels of the rotorcraft's 21st successful flight, the first of at least three needed for the helicopter to cross the northwest portion of a region known as "Séítah" and reach its next staging area.

"Less than a year ago we didn't even know if powered, controlled flight of an aircraft at Mars was possible," said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Now, we are looking forward to Ingenuity's involvement in Perseverance's second science campaign. Such a transformation of mindset in such a short period is simply amazing, and one of the most historic in the annals of air and space exploration."

Ingenuity's new area of operations is entirely different from the modest, relatively flat terrain it has been flying over since its first flight last April. Several miles wide and formed by an ancient river, the fan-shaped delta rises more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor. Filled with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets that could stop a rover in its tracks (or upend a helicopter upon landing), the delta promises to hold numerous geologic revelations – perhaps even the proof necessary to determine that microscopic life once existed on Mars billions of years ago.

Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity's first orders will be to help determine which of two dry river channels Perseverance should take when it's time to climb to the top of the delta. Along with routing assistance, data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets. Ingenuity may even be called upon to image geologic features too far afield (or outside of the rover's traversable zone), or perhaps scout landing zones and caching sites for the Mars Sample Return program.

"The Jezero river delta campaign will be the biggest challenge the Ingenuity team faces since first flight at Mars," said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "To enhance our chances of success, we have increased the size of our team and are making upgrades to our flight software geared toward improving operational flexibility and flight safety."

Higher Flights

Several of these upgrades have led to reduced navigation errors during flight, which increases both flight and landing safety. A recent software change already on the rotorcraft frees Ingenuity from its previously programmed maximum altitude of 50 feet (15 meters). The altitude gains could result in incremental increases in both air speed and range. A second upgrade allows Ingenuity to change airspeed as it flies. Another enables it to better understand and adjust to changes in terrain texture during flight. Future software upgrades may include adding terrain elevation maps into the navigation filter and a landing-hazard-avoidance capability.

Before aerial reconnaissance of the delta can begin, Ingenuity has to complete its journey to the area. Scheduled for no earlier than March 19, Ingenuity's next flight will be a complex journey, about 1,150 feet (350 meters) in length, that includes a sharp bend in its course to avoid a large hill. After that, the team will determine whether two or three more flights will be required to complete the crossing of northwest Séítah.

The first experimental flight on another world took place on April 19, 2021, and lasted 39.1 seconds. After another four flights, six more minutes in the air, and traveling a total distance of 1,637 feet (499 meters), NASA transitioned Ingenuity into an operations demonstration phase, testing its ability to provide an aerial dimension to the Perseverance mission. With the completion of Flight 21, the rotorcraft has logged over 38 minutes aloft and traveled 2.9 miles (4.64 kilometers). As Ingenuity pushes farther into uncharted territory, these numbers will inevitably go up, and previous flight records will more than likely fall.

"This upcoming flight will be my 22nd entry in our logbook," said Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip of JPL. "I remember thinking when this all started, we'd be lucky to have three entries and immensely fortunate to get five. Now, at the rate we're going, I'm going to need a second book."

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 48330
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-24-2022 09:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for March 21, 2022 (via Twitter):
Over the weekend, the Mars Helicopter took its 22nd flight! The trip lasted 101.4 seconds and Ingenuity got up to 10 meters in the air. The team is planning another flight perhaps as early as later this week.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for March 24, 2022 (via Twitter):
23 flights and counting!

Mars Helicopter successfully completed its 23rd excursion. It flew for 129.1 seconds over 358 meters. Data from Ingenuity in the new region it's headed to will help the Perseverance team find potential science targets.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 04-12-2022 06:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for April 5, 2022 (via Twitter):
The Mars Helicopter completed its 24th flight on April 3.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for April 12, 2022 (via Twitter):
Mars Helicopter is breaking records again!

Ingenuity completed its 25th and most ambitious flight. It broke its distance and ground speed records, traveling 704 meters at 5.5 meters per second while flying for 161.3 seconds.

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 48330
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 04-27-2022 03:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA's Mars Helicopter Spots Gear That Helped Perseverance Rover Land

Eyeing some of the components that enabled the rover to get safely to the Martian surface could provide valuable insights for future missions.

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently surveyed both the parachute that helped the agency's Perseverance rover land on Mars and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the rover in deep space and during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021. Engineers with the Mars Sample Return program asked whether Ingenuity could provide this perspective. What resulted were 10 aerial color images taken April 19 during Ingenuity's Flight 26.

Above: This image of Perseverance's backshell sitting upright on the surface of Jezero Crater was collected from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters) by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight at Mars on April 19, 2022.

"NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this," said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity's team lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "Every time we're airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return's reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars."

Entry, descent, and landing on Mars is fast-paced and stressful, not only for the engineers back on Earth, but also for the vehicle enduring the gravitational forces, high temperatures, and other extremes that come with entering Mars' atmosphere at nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). The parachute and backshell were previously imaged from a distance by the Perseverance rover.

But those collected by the rotorcraft (from an aerial perspective and closer) provide more detail. The images have the potential to help ensure safer landings for future spacecraft such as the Mars Sample Return Lander, which is part of a multimission campaign that would bring Perseverance's samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere, and sediment back to Earth for detailed analysis.

Above: This image of Perseverance's backshell and parachute was collected from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters) by the NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight on Mars on April 19, 2022.

"Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown," said JPL's Ian Clark, former Perseverance systems engineer and now Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead. "But Ingenuity's images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring."

In the images of the upright backshell and the debris field that resulted from it impacting the surface at about 78 mph (126 kph), the backshell's protective coating appears to have remained intact during Mars atmospheric entry. Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact. Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute – at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars – can be seen, but the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation. Several weeks of analysis will be needed for a more final verdict.

Flight 26 Maneuvers

Above: Perseverance's backshell, supersonic parachute, and associated debris field is seen strewn across the Martian surface in this image captured by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 26th flight on April 19, 2022.

Ingenuity's 159-second flight began at 11:37 a.m. local Mars time April 19, on the one-year anniversary of its first flight. Flying 26 feet (8 meters) above ground level, Ingenuity traveled 630 feet (192 meters) to the southeast and took its first picture. The rotorcraft next headed southwest and then northwest, taking images at pre-planned locations along the route. Once it collected 10 images in its flash memory, Ingenuity headed west 246 feet (75 meters) and landed. Total distance covered: 1,181 feet (360 meters). With the completion of Flight 26, the rotorcraft has logged over 49 minutes aloft and traveled 3.9 miles (6.2 kilometers).

"To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12, and 13," said Håvard Grip, chief pilot of Ingenuity at JPL. "Our landing spot set us up nicely to image an area of interest for the Perseverance science team on Flight 27, near 'Séítah' ridge."

The new area of operations in Jezero Crater's dry river delta marks a dramatic departure from the modest, relatively flat terrain Ingenuity had been flying over since its first flight. Several miles wide, the fan-shaped delta formed where an ancient river spilled into the lake that once filled Jezero Crater. Rising more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor and filled with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets, the delta promises to hold numerous geologic revelations – perhaps even proof that microscopic life existed on Mars billions of years ago.

Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity's first orders may be to help determine which of two dry river channels Perseverance should climb to reach the top of the delta. Along with route-planning assistance, data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets. Ingenuity may even be called upon to image geologic features too far afield for the rover to reach or to scout landing zones and sites on the surface where sample caches could be deposited for the Mars Sample Return program.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 48330
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-09-2022 11:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity in Contact With Perseverance Rover After Communications Dropout

On Thursday, May 5, mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory received confirmation that the agency's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter had re-established communications with the Perseverance rover. Earlier in the week, the rotorcraft had missed a planned communications session with the rover – for the first time in over a year of operations on the Mars surface. Ingenuity relies on Perseverance as the base station that enables it to send data to and receive commands from Earth. While more data downlinks and analysis are needed, the Ingenuity and Perseverance teams believe they have determined a cause of the anomaly as well as a plan to return to normal operations.

Ingenuity became the first powered aircraft to operate on another world on April 19, 2021. Designed to perform up to five experimental test flights over a span of 30 Martian days (sols), or close to 31 Earth days, the rotorcraft has flown over 4.2 miles (6.9 kilometers) across 28 sorties and operated from the surface of the Red Planet for over a year.

Data downlinked indicates that the communications dropout on May 3, Sol 427 of the Perseverance rover's mission at Mars, was a result of the solar-powered helicopter entering a low-power state, potentially due to the seasonal increase in the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere and lower temperatures as winter approaches. The dust diminishes the amount of sunlight hitting the solar array, reducing Ingenuity's ability to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries. When the battery pack's state of charge dropped below a lower limit, the helicopter's field-programmable gate array (FPGA) was powered down.

The FPGA manages Ingenuity's operational state, switching the other avionics elements on and off as needed to maximize power conservation. It also operates the heaters that enable the helicopter to survive frigid Martian nights, maintains precise spacecraft time, and controls when the helicopter is scheduled to wake up for communications sessions with Perseverance.

When the FPGA lost power during the Martian night, the helicopter's onboard clock – which designates the time that communications with Perseverance occur – reset. And Ingenuity's heaters, so vital to keeping electronics and other components within operational temperatures – turned off. When the Sun rose the next morning and the solar array began to charge the batteries, the helicopter's clock was no longer in sync with the clock aboard the rover. Essentially, when Ingenuity thought it was time to contact Perseverance, the rover's base station wasn't listening.

To make sure Perseverance would hear a call, Perseverance mission controllers at JPL commanded the rover to spend almost all of Sol 429 (May 5) listening for the helicopter's signal. It came at 11:45 a.m. local Mars time. The data transmitted was limited to deliberately preserve battery charge, but the helicopter's critical health and safety data were nominal. The radio link between Ingenuity and Perseverance was stable, spacecraft temperatures were within expectation, the solar array was recharging the battery at a rate expected for this season, and the battery was healthy, containing 41% of a full charge.

But one radio communications session does not mean Ingenuity is out of the woods. The increased (light-reducing) dust in the air means charging the helicopter's batteries to a level that will allow important components (like the clock and heaters) to remain energized throughout the night presents a significant challenge.

Each night for the past three sols, Ingenuity's heaters have kicked in when its battery temperature was below 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius). While on, the heaters kept the temperature of vital helicopter components from dropping farther – down to the ambient environmental temperature of minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees Celsius). But the team believes that the battery couldn't sustain the energy draw of the onboard heaters throughout the night.

"We have always known that Martian winter and dust storm season would present new challenges for Ingenuity, specifically colder sols, an increase in atmospheric dust, and more frequent dust storms," said Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "Every flight and every mile of distance flown beyond our original 30-sol mission has pushed the spacecraft to its limits each and every sol on Mars."

The Ingenuity and Perseverance teams have designed a plan they hope will make a difference. Their goal is to help the helicopter's battery accumulate enough of a charge during the next few sols so that it could support all necessary spacecraft systems during the cold Martian night. Uplinked yesterday, the new commands lower the point at which the helicopter energizes its heaters from when the battery falls below 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius) to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius). The helicopter then shuts down quickly, rather than consuming the battery charge with the heaters. The team hopes this strategy will allow the battery to retain whatever charge it collected during the day. The Ingenuity engineers hope that after several days of the helicopter's array soaking in the limited rays, the battery will have reached a point where the spacecraft can return to normal operations.

Allowing the heaters to remain off overnight will conserve significant battery energy but will also expose components to the cold of Martian night. Developed as a technology demonstration to prove that powered, controlled flight on Mars is possible, the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft carries many commercial off-the-shelf parts that weren't designed for the cold of deep space operations.

"Our top priority is to maintain communications with Ingenuity in the next few sols, but even then, we know that there will be significant challenges ahead," said Tzanetos. "I could not be prouder of our team's performance over the last year, let alone our aircraft's incredible achievements on Mars. We are hopeful that we can accumulate battery charge in order to return to nominal operations and continue our mission into the weeks ahead."


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