NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter broke its own record

NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter broke its own record

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More than a year and a half after its first flight to Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter has set a new record.

The tiny 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter completed its 35th flight on December 3 and reached a new altitude record of 46 feet (14 meters).

The aerial excursion lasted 52 seconds and carried the helicopter a distance of about 50 feet (15 meters) to reposition it. This was Ingenuity’s first substantial sortie since an 18-second jump-and-float maneuver on Nov. 22 to test the helicopter after receiving a major software upgrade that could extend the helicopter’s service life.

The software will help Ingenuity avoid hazards when it lands on the rocky Martian surface by generating digital elevation maps as it navigates future flights.

Ingenuity was initially designed as a technology demonstration that would only make five flights to Mars after making a trip to the Red Planet with the Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the Martian landscape since February 2021.

Instead, the helicopter has proven itself time and time again and has become the rover’s aerial scout, flying over areas deemed too dangerous for the rover and surveying possible future destinations.

This expanded role has also allowed Ingenuity to fly over and land in much more difficult terrain than its team ever anticipated. Now that the team has had time to assess how Ingenuity is adjusting to its upgrades, the little helicopter is ready to go back out for regular flights.

Next, Ingenuity will begin flying over the steep terrain of the ancient river delta, where water flowed into Jezero Crater more than 3 billion years ago.

Ingenuity’s amazing journey has also paved the way for future aerial exploration vehicles.

“Ingenuity’s success has led NASA to decide to take two Ingenuity-class helicopters to the Mars Sample Retrieval Lander scheduled for later this decade,” wrote Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer emeritus, in one NASA blog update.

“These sample recovery helicopters, with wheels instead of feet, and a small manipulator arm with a two-finger gripper, will, if necessary, carry precious sample tubes from a sample cache to the vehicle “ascent to Mars for launch to Earth. A more capable Mars science helicopter with the ability to carry nearly 5 kg of science payloads is also in the early conceptual and design stages.”

Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover continues to collect intriguing samples of Mars. On Dec. 2 and Dec. 6, the robotic explorer collected its first two samples of regolith, or wind-blown sand and dust, from a small dune.

“There are many different materials mixed into the Martian regolith,” astrobiologist Libby Hausrath, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a Mars Sample Return scientist, said in a statement. “Each sample represents an integrated history of the planet’s surface.”

Perseverance will drop off some of its samples later this month at a designated flat deposit location. The cache will be collected by future missions during the Mars sample return campaign and returned to Earth in the 2030s.

The broken rock and dust could reveal more about the environment and geological history of Mars, but it could also shed light on how that dust could affect solar panels, spacesuits and other items that will be required for manned missions to the red planet. .

When the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, it was discovered that the lunar regolith was sharp enough to tear small holes in their spacesuits.

Scientists know that the Martian surface includes a toxic chemical called perchlorate that could pose a threat to future explorers if inhaled.

“If we’re going to have a more permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how dust and regolith will interact with our spacecraft and habitats,” said Erin Gibbons, a doctoral student in planetary and Earth sciences at McGill University in Mont -real and a member of the Perseverance rover. scientific team, in a statement.

“Some of these dust grains could be as fine as cigarette smoke and could enter an astronaut’s respiratory system. We want a more complete picture of what materials would be harmful to our explorers, whether human or robotics”.

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