NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completes historic Mars test flight


NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made its first flight to Mars on April 19, 2021 (NASA / JPL-Caltech)

NASA made history on April 19, 2021, when it made the first controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. In what is described as a “Wright Brothers moment”, the ingenuity of the size of a tissue box gradually rose to an altitude of 9.8 feet (3 meters) above the surface of Mars and plane for 30 seconds before gracefully descending land on all fours.

Since it was impossible to send instructions in real time, Ingenuity’s short flight was autonomous – piloted by on-board guidance, navigation and control systems operating algorithms developed by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Although the monumental The event happened at 3:34 a.m. EDT, it took about 4 hours to get the data and images – transmitted from the Mars Perseverance rover to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) – confirming its success. “Like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, we know our time to make a difference at Jezero Crater on Mars is not yet over,” said MiMi Aung, chief engineer at Ingenuity. “This is just the first big flight.”

The historic flight lasted only 30 seconds. (NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Inasmuch as tribute to Wilbur and Orville Wright, who made the first controlled airplane flight on Earth in 1903, NASA named the airfield from which Ingenuity took off, “Wright Brothers Field”. The small helicopter also carries a small Fabric sample of one of the wings of the plane the brothers flew over 117 years ago.

Ingenuity traveled to Mars by hitchhiking with the Perseverance rover. The small helicopter was niche sideways under the belly of the rover with a cover to protect it from debris when landing. Its first test took place on April 6, 2021, after being gently deposited on the surface of the Red Planet. The little plane had to count on on its solar battery to operate a vital heater to protect its electric unshielded Components freezing and cracking in the bitterly cold Martian night – when temperatures can to dive as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).

“This is the first time Ingenuity has been alone on the surface of Mars,” Aung said. “But now we have confirmation that we have the right insulation, the right heaters and enough energy in its battery to survive the cold night, which is a big win for the team. “

The ingenuity took 6 years to develop and cost $ 85 million (NASA / JPL-Caltech)

The 4-pound (1.8 kilogram), 19-inch-tall Ingenuity is equipped with two sets of rotor blades, which can spin at 3,000 rotations per minute, or about ten times the speed of helicopters on Earth. His lightweight and a fast pace are essential for the aircraft to fly in the sparse The atmosphere of Mars, which is estimated to be only 1% the density of that of Earth. “To make it fly in this low atmosphere density, we had to look at everything, make it as light as possible while still being as strong and powerful as possible, ”Aung said.

In addition to making history, the $ 85 million aircraft will allow NASA to test technologies for facilitate future robotic and human missions to Mars. Ingenuity is expected to complete at least four additional flights during its 31-day testing window. If all goes well, everyone subsequent the flight will be a little longer and more risky. “Flight number five could be something like complex on take-off, fly a certain distance, choose a new landing site by himself and land there, ”promises Joshua Ravich, head of helicopter mechanical engineering at JPL.


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