Thursday, March 2, 2023

Mars Ingenuity Continues to Exceed Expectations

Back in May, as winter was closing in on the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter, there were concerns that the components on the little helicopter wouldn't survive the cold Martian winter.  Six months later, on November 22nd we learned that the little helicopter survived the coldest part of winter unscathed, is flying again, and NASA had done a major software upgrade to improve its usefulness.  That upgrade was tested by taking the shortest test flight it had ever flown.  

Ingenuity took its 46th flight on February 25th, although NASA only released the flight data yesterday, on March 1st.  The original plans for the helicopter were to fly five flights to test out various concepts.  The little helicopter is virtually at 10x that planned number of flights.  It sounds like the concept has been demonstrated well beyond the original modest goals. 

Ingenuity hopped a third of a mile on the Red Planet as it shifted between airfields.

The goal of the flight was to "reposition of the helicopter and [to] scout future airfields," agency officials wrote in a pre-flight briefing.

According to its flight log, the helicopter flew for about 1,460 feet on the Martian surface between airfields "Eta" and "Theta."  Ingenuity flew at 39-feet above the sands and achieved a top speed of 11.9 mph during the flight.

Ingenuity, of course, arrived at Jezero Crater on Mars in February of '22, attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, now widely nicknamed Percy.  Now that it has proven itself without a doubt to be fully operational, Ingenuity's mandate has expanded to assisting Percy with the search for ancient life in the crater, the site of an ancient river delta.  How about the mission to collect and return samples to Earth for study going from no use of a helicopter to two of them?

As talked about back in July, Ingenuity's successes are leading to changes of follow on missions. 

NASA now plans to include two sample helicopters on a joint mission with the European Space Agency to return samples from Mars. Percy is supposed to bring samples to the lander itself, but if it is unable to, the two backup helicopters will pick up identical lightsaber-shaped sample tubes Percy has been caching on the surface.

A conceptual sketch from NASA/JPL-CalTech, showing a helicopter, Perseverance, and the ESA Mars lander on the bottom row, and the ESA's Earth Return orbiter, left, and NASA's Mars Ascent Vehicle top right.  The upper left corner picture appears to be a gibbous Earth, but Earth couldn't possibly appear that big from Mars.  I'll write that off to someone at JPL-CalTech being overly artistic.




    I'm not crying. You're crying


    2. Did you see the post with video, "Good Night, Oppy" back in December? It's bout Opportunity and not Spirit, but a good documentary.

    3. Yes, I remember that. Some friends of mine were on the design teams for the Mars Rovers. They do not pay for beers if I'm in the bar. Well, it's a cheap bar. Next time you're in Houston I'll stand you a couple rounds at Valhalla. Rice U Campus, under the Chem Lec Hall.

  2. SiG, that sort of picture is what I remember when I reading about the future of space exploration in the 70's from books in the 60's and 70's. Even if it is a bit hokie-ish, it is the sort of picture that made me dream of a space future. A little liberty in such things is not always a bad thing.