Images and video show NASA's helicopter flying in 'Wright brothers moment' on Mars

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CNBC 19 April, 2021 - 08:32am 20 views

When is Mars helicopter first flight?

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this shot as it hovered over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. NASANASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Succeeds in Historic First Flight

Did ingenuity fly on Mars?

A full-speed rotor run-up was performed on Friday. "We have fully confirmed that Ingenuity has enough energy and power to perform this flight at Mars," said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager, at a pre-flight press briefing. BBC NewsNasa's Ingenuity Mars helicopter set for first flight

What Time Is Mars helicopter flight?

The agency launched its Ingenuity helicopter into the atmosphere of Mars around 3:30 am ET, marking the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars, April 19, 2021. ABC NewsNASA's Mars helicopter makes 1st flight on another planet

Here's a look at NASA's historic flight of an aircraft on Mars, a feat the space agency called a "Wright brothers moment."

NASA rover Perseverance captured imagery of the flight after rolling a short distance away, with one of its navigation cameras showing a sequence before, during and after the helicopter's flight.

Ingenuity, which weighs 4 pounds, successfully flew autonomously for 39 seconds.

NASA announced after the flight that the area on Mars' Jezero Crater where Ingenuity flew will be known as Wright Brothers Field.

The helicopter stands just over 19 inches tall, and was delivered to the surface of Mars by NASA's rover Perseverance.

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NASA Mars Helicopter Achieves First Flight on Red Planet

The New York Times 19 April, 2021 - 09:00am

The experimental Ingenuity vehicle completed the short but historic up-and-down flight on Monday morning.

A small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity made space exploration history on Monday when it lifted off the surface of Mars and hovered in the wispy air of the red planet. It was the first machine from Earth ever to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on another world.

In NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, engineers cheered just before 7 a.m. Eastern time as an image was transmitted back to Earth by the helicopter showing its shadow looming over the Martian surface during its flight, which occurred around 3:30 a.m. on Mars.

The achievement extends NASA’s long, exceptional record of firsts on Mars. But it was also something different for NASA — a high-risk, high-reward project with a modest price tag where failure was an acceptable outcome.

That approach is more similar to that of nimble space companies like SpaceX than large traditional development programs that work through every possible contingency to build a full-scale machine that has to work the first time.

With the successful test flight, up to four more flights could be attempted. The first three are designed to test basic abilities of the helicopter. The third flight could fly a distance 160 feet and then return.

The final two flights could travel farther, but NASA officials did not want to speculate how much.

NASA wants to wrap up the tests within 30 Martian days of when Ingenuity was dropped off, so that Perseverance can commence the main portion of its $2.7 billion mission. It will leave the helicopter behind and head toward a river delta along the rim of Jezero crater where sediments, and perhaps chemical hints of ancient life, are preserved.

Ingenuity was an $85 million nice-to-have, add-on project but not a core requirement for the success of Perseverance.

There is not much air to push against to generate lift.

At the surface of Mars, the atmosphere is just 1/100th as dense as Earth’s. The lesser gravity — one-third of what you feel here — helps with getting airborne. But taking off from the surface of Mars is comparable to flying at an altitude of 100,000 feet on Earth. No helicopter on our planet has flown that high, and it’s more than two times the typical flying altitude of jetliners.

Until 1997, all of the spacecraft sent to the surface of Mars had been stationary landers. But that year, the Pathfinder mission included something revolutionary for NASA: a wheeled robot. That rover, Sojourner, was roughly the size of a short filing cabinet, and planetary scientists quickly realized the benefits of being able to move around the Martian landscape. Four more NASA rovers, including Perseverance, have since followed to the red planet.

Ingenuity is in essence the aerial counterpart of Sojourner, a demonstration of a novel technology that may be used more extensively on later missions. And demonstrating that the helicopter can fly on Mars may help inform flight attempts on other worlds in our solar system, such as Titan, the moon of Saturn where NASA plans to send a nuclear-powered quadcopter.

NASA planned the first flight of Ingenuity on April 11. But on April 9, there was a problem during a test in which the rotors had spun up to flight speeds without the helicopter taking off. Telemetry indicated that some of the steps during the test took longer than expected, and a timer that keeps watch to make sure nothing goes wrong expired. Ingenuity’s computer then stopped the test before it entered what NASA calls “flight mode.”

The helicopter was safe and undamaged, NASA said, but the engineers needed to understand what happened and devise a solution to the problem.

Initially, NASA said that it would need to upgrade Ingenuity’s flight software and that it would not even announce a new date until this week. Although the changes were simple, engineers worried that a coding error could accidentally “brick” the computer, leaving it unresponsive and impossible to fix. Installing and testing the upgraded software also would have taken several days.

In a blog post on Saturday, MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager, said that the upgrade now appeared not to be necessary. The engineers came up with a simpler, quicker fix — adjusting the commands from Earth to tweak the timing of the transition to flight mode while leaving the helicopter’s software untouched.

This was not a perfect fix — in tests on Earth, it failed about 15 percent of the time — but this solution worked on Friday when Ingenuity was able to complete the full-speed spin test that had been cut short a week earlier.

That paved the way for attempting the first flight sooner, on Monday.

“We also know that if the first attempt does not work on Monday, we can try these commands again,” Ms. Aung wrote, “with good probability that subsequent tries in the days following would work even if the first doesn’t.”

If the current approach did not succeed, the engineers have sent the modified Ingenuity flight software to Perseverance. If needed, the rover could install those changes to the helicopter’s computer.

NASA wasn’t the only visitor to the red planet from Earth this year.

China’s Tianwen-1 probe also arrived in February, and it entered a steady orbit of the planet weeks later. As early as late May, it will release a lander and rover that will try to reach the surface of the red planet. If it succeeds, it will be China’s first successful touchdown on another planet — it has landed on the moon three times already.

The United Arab Emirates’ Hope probe also arrived at Mars two months ago. After a firing of its thrusters on March 29, it has entered into an orbit where it can begin a close study of the planet’s atmosphere and weather. That phase of scientific research was scheduled to begin last Wednesday.

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Ingenuity helicopter successfully flew on Mars: NASA | AFP

AFP News Agency 19 April, 2021 - 09:00am

Lift Off! First Flight on Mars Launches New Way to Explore Worlds

Scientific American 19 April, 2021 - 09:00am

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully hovered for 40 seconds in Mars’s thin atmosphere

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” says MiMi Aung, the project’s lead engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Ingenuity’s short test flight is the off-Earth equivalent of the Wright Brothers piloting their aeroplane above the coastal dunes at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. In tribute, the helicopter carries a postage-stamp-sized piece of muslin fabric from the Wright Brothers’ plane. “Each world gets only one first flight,” says Aung.

The flight came after a one-week delay, because software issues kept the helicopter from transitioning into flight mode two days ahead of a planned flight attempt on 11 April. Today, at 12:34 a.m. US Pacific time, Ingenuity successfully spun its counter-rotating carbon-fibre blades at more than 2,400 revolutions per minute to give it the lift it needed to rise 3 metres into the air. The US$85-million drone hovered there, and then, in a planned manoeuvre, turned 90 degrees and descended safely back to the Martian surface. “This is just the first great flight,” says Aung.

Four further flights, each lasting up to 90 seconds, are planned in the coming weeks. In these, Ingenuity is likely to rise up to 5 metres above the surface and travel up to 300 metres from the take-off point. Each successive flight will push Ingenuity’s capabilities to see how well the drone fares in Mars’s thin atmosphere, which is just 1% as dense as Earth’s.

Space agencies have sent drifting aircraft to other planets before; for example, the Soviet Union’s Vega 1 and Vega 2 missions sent balloons into Venus’s atmosphere in 1985. But Ingenuity’s flight is the first controlled flight on another planet.

Its purpose is to test whether helicopters could be used to explore other worlds. As it flies across the terrain, it will snap black-and-white images of the surface below, and colour images looking toward the horizon. Future helicopters could help rovers, or even astronauts, to make their way across the surface, by scouting for interesting areas ahead and relaying images of what the landscape looks like.

Big rotorcraft could also get into areas that are inaccessible to rovers rolling across the ground, says Anubhav Datta, an aerospace engineer at the University of Maryland in College Park who has been working on Mars helicopter concepts for decades. “If we are serious about human missions to Mars we should be serious about sending large helicopters to truly explore what awaits there,” he says. “The most interesting places we want to explore are not on flat land but up the slopes, on the cliffs, down the craters and into the caves.” Cameras and other instruments aboard helicopters could capture information about such places.

NASA is already building a car-sized octocopter named Dragonfly that it plans to send to Saturn’s moon Titan. Set to launch in 2027, the copter would explore Titan’s atmosphere, which is four times denser than Earth’s and is rich in primordial organic compounds. That’s a very different environment from the one that Ingenuity is experiencing on Mars. But the early flight lessons from Ingenuity will inform Dragonfly’s design. “We’re looking forward to learning from the Ingenuity team’s experience flying in an extraterrestrial sky,” says Elizabeth Turtle, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who is Dragonfly's principal investigator.

Ingenuity arrived in Mars’s Jezero Crater in February, nestled under the belly of the Perseverance rover. From its landing site, Perseverance drove to a flat ‘airfield’ in the crater that is relatively free of rocks, and deposited Ingenuity there. The rover then rolled to a slight rise 65 metres away, a vantage point from which it watched and videotaped Ingenuity’s take-off and flight.

The biggest challenge in designing Ingenuity was making it small and light enough to be carried under Perseverance’s belly, while still being capable of flight, says Aung. The helicopter ended up weighing just 1.8 kilograms. Engineers tested it on Earth in a special chamber at JPL from which nearly all the air had been sucked out, to simulate the thin Martian atmosphere.

Compared with a similar-sized helicopter on Earth, Ingenuity has larger blades that spin much faster, to lift it into the thin Martian air. Datta says that he will be anxiously awaiting information on how much power the helicopter takes to hover; this knowledge will help engineers to better understand the aerodynamics on Mars.

Another researcher, William Farrell at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is crossing his fingers that Ingenuity will help scientists to gain a better idea of the electrical properties of the Martian atmosphere. To do this, it would need to fly—or at least spin its blades—near dusk on Mars. Farrell and his colleagues recently calculated that the moving helicopter blades could become electrically charged through contact with the dust in the surrounding air, much as helicopter blades on Earth can build up charge in sand storms. That could cause a faint blue-purplish glow along the blades, best visible in the dim light of dusk. Farrell has asked the Ingenuity team if it could rotate the blades during dusk at some point—and if that happens, he will be watching closely.

The thin Martian atmosphere means that winds there are not particularly strong. Ingenuity can handle winds of a little over 10 metres per second while flying, and stronger winds when it’s sitting on the ground. It is powered by solar panels to keep it warm during the freezing Martian nights, when temperatures can sink to -90 ºC at Jezero Crater.

Ingenuity is designed to last just 30 Martian days, which end on 4 May. After that, even if the helicopter is still functional, it will have accomplished its mission and team scientists will turn their attention back to the rover on which it travelled to Mars. Ingenuity will rest in perpetuity in Jezero Crater as Perseverance trundles off on its main mission to collect rock samples for eventual return to Earth.

Alexandra Witze works for Nature magazine.

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