Ingenuity Mars Helicopter completes a 'spin test,' moves closer to flight

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Engadget 16 April, 2021 - 10:10pm 23 views

Did ingenuity fly on Mars yet?

NASA has recently confirmed that its Ingenuity mars mini-helicopter had successfully touched down on the red planet to prepare for its first flight. NASA Ingenuity is attached to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover that touched down on Mars on February 18, 2021. Mashable IndiaNASA Delays First Flight Of Its Ingenuity Helicopter On Mars Yet Again!

NASA's Mars lander is in emergency hibernation — and it could die | TheHill

The Hill 17 April, 2021 - 12:02am

NASA’s InSight needs to charge its batteries or it will die in space.

NASA's InSight Mars lander has to conserve its batteries, otherwise it will die on Mars.

InSight is receiving 27 percent of the power of its normal charge.

The robot is in good condition and it is still able to function its moving arm, but it runs the risk of causing a potential fatal power failure, and if batteries die, so will InSight.

NASA has been incrementally turning off different instruments on the lander, and InSight will soon go into hibernation mode. The lander will have to survive the planet’s winter until July 2021 when Mars swings closer to the sun. 

"The amount of power available over the next few months will really be driven by the weather," Chuck Scott of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and InSight's project manager said. 

"As part of our extended-mission planning, we developed an operations strategy to keep InSight safe through the winter so that we can resume science operations as solar intensity increases," he continued.

NASA Engineers 'Nervous' and 'Excited' as Mars Helicopter Prepares to Fly

VICE 17 April, 2021 - 12:02am

The Ingenuity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is busy at work getting the aircraft ready for its first flight demonstration, which is currently scheduled to take place sometime next week. 

Farah Alibay, a systems engineer at NASA who serves as the Perseverance integration lead for Ingenuity, said the helicopter is both the “craziest” and “cutest” project she’s ever worked on.

“We haven’t been flying on Earth for all that long, and now we’ve gone to a whole other planet, millions of miles away, and we’re going to attempt to fly,” Alibay told VICE News.

“We think it’s going to work,” she added. “We think physics works a certain way. But either way, we’re going to learn a whole lot and that’s the goal of this.”

Flying on Mars is no easy feat. Though the planet is much smaller than Earth, which means it exerts less gravity on objects at its surface, its atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than the skies on our own planet. Given that air pressure is what helps aircraft generate lift, Ingenuity is equipped with extended rotors that will help carry its four-pound heft into the (very thin) air. 

The helicopter’s first flight will be a cautious ascent to an altitude of about 10 feet that will last about a minute. If that demonstration works, Ingenuity could eventually venture about 160 feet across the Martian surface before returning to its landing site. The mission will conclude after a month so that NASA can focus on their main Martian priority: the Perseverance rover.

As a nod to the historic nature of this demonstration, Ingenuity is carrying a small piece of the Wright Flyer, which demonstrated the first crewed powered flight on Earth in 1903. Just as the Wright brothers pioneered aviation on our planet, Ingenuity might lead to a new era of extraterrestrial flyers sent to explore the skies of other worlds. 

But first, the Martian helicopter has to make its move. Space enthusiasts around the world are eagerly awaiting Ingenuity’s first flight attempt, whenever it’s able to make it.

“It is definitely really humbling to be a part of this team,” Alibay said. “I think we’re all a little nervous, and we’re excited. The work has been put in. The work is done. All we can do now is take our shot and see what happens.” 

“It’s been incredible also to see the world follow along with us, and to be so engaged and behind us,” she added. “We’re definitely feeling everyone’s energy and support in what we’re trying to attempt.”

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How NASA Is Pushing a Software Update to Mars to Get Ingenuity Flying

VICE 17 April, 2021 - 12:02am

Ingenuity, an $85 million NASA “flight experiment,” will pull off the first powered flight on an alien world when it takes off. It landed on Mars in February atop the Perseverance rover’s back and on April 7th first began stretching out and testing its rotor blades after the 173-million-mile journey from Earth to Mars. It was a couple of days later on Ingenuity’s 49th Martian day, and just before its planned first flight, that NASA caught wind that something might not be quite right, explained Dave Lavery, Program Executive for Solar System Exploration at NASA HQ and Helicopter Program Executive, in an email.

“Ingenuity, while preparing for a high-speed spin test of its rotors, did not transition from a pre-flight check-out mode to its flight mode as expected,” says Lavery. “The onboard logic did not recognize the flight control computers as healthy and functional, even though it was confirmed they were.”

When this happened, Lavery said that Ingenuity’s onboard computers behaved exactly as they should have to protect it from damage had it been in flight and sent Ingenuity into sleep mode to await further instructions from Earth. Despite this seeming miscommunication between onboard logic and flight computers, Lavery says that Ingenuity’s critical functions (like communications, thermal control, and power) remained stable.

“The process for updating the Ingenuity software is conceptually similar to a user downloading a software update from an operating system supplier and installing it on a personal computer,” explains Lavery. But instead of being downloaded directly by the user, Ingenuity’s software updates funneled between several different computers linked across the vastness of space called the Deep Space Network—no biggie.

The first step of updating a helicopter on Mars, said Lavery, is to design and validate the software on Earth.

“As software intended for the Ingenuity helicopter is developed here on Earth, it is run through a careful and deliberate validation and testing process to ensure the software is safe and functions properly,” he explained.  “This includes exercising the software on testbeds that are computationally identical to the flight systems.”

Once these software updates have been given the OK on Earth, they are then compressed and separated into pieces for their journey through the Deep Space Network, the communication network of giant radio antennas dotted around the Earth that helps NASA transmit information to and from planetary spacecraft.

“The pieces of the software load are sent from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, via the DSN, to one of the satellites currently orbiting Mars [and] are then relayed down to the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars, where they are reassembled into the consolidated software package,” explains Lavery.

Once the software update has safely landed in Perseverance’s hands, it is finally passed along to Ingenuity via the Helicopter Base Station, which Lavery says is a “dedicated controller in the rover which collects, stores, and configures data communications between the rover and the helicopter.”

And then, finally, Ingenuity can install the software update to its computers and reboot with new pep in its step. 

Lavery says that this kind of real-time problem solving is not unexpected for a technology like Ingenuity, but if all goes according to plan this new update should be all Ingenuity needs to continue preparing for what will be the first “first powered, controlled flight on another planet.” 

NASA doesn’t yet have a hard date of when to expect Ingenuity to be back up and running, but plans to set a new flight date the week of April 18th.

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10 Questions With Penn State Alumna & NASA Engineer Rachel Kronyak

Onward State 17 April, 2021 - 12:02am

Kronyak graduated from Penn State with a degree in geobiology and was involved in Penn State’s Women in Science and Engineering Research. Before landing a full-time job with NASA, she completed several internships there.

We sat down with Kronyak to learn more about her journey to NASA and her out-of-this-world work involving the Mars rover.

Rachel Kronyak: When considering colleges, I knew I was broadly interested in astrobiology and planetary science, and Penn State seemed to have an excellent selection of majors to choose from. I also completely fell in love with the campus when I visited with my parents as a high school student. I fondly remember browsing the catalog of majors the *night before* my New Student Orientation and stumbling across the geobiology degree. It sounded like the perfect blend of my interests and ended up being a great fit.

RK: At first it was intimidating applying to work in a research lab as a first-semester freshman. I felt like I didn’t know nearly enough about science and would have no idea what I was doing. In reality, it was one of my most memorable experiences and helped set me on my career path to NASA. I worked in Dr. Chris House’s astrobiology lab on a project involving extremophile bacteria, where I tested the limits of their survival under a variety of conditions (salt, pH, arsenic levels, etc.). After my WISER program ended, I continued to work in Dr. House’s lab for the rest of my years at Penn State and gained a ton of valuable research experience.

RK: My role on the Perseverance rover mission is as an operations systems engineer, which broadly translates to a “jack of all trades” when it comes to operating the rover. I work with the team’s scientists and engineers to help build the plans of activities and observations that get sent up to the rover on Mars each day. Building these plans is a complex yet delicate balance of making sure we’re making daily progress towards our mission objectives while also managing the rover’s resources efficiently. My job is very interdisciplinary and team-oriented, and I’m constantly learning new things. No two days are the same on Mars!

My favorite part of being on the Perseverance mission is getting to work with incredibly talented and inspiring people that are all working towards a common goal. It’s also really exciting being able to see images of new places on Mars every day. It makes us really feel like explorers.

RK: I also work on the Curiosity rover mission. Curiosity is Perseverance’s predecessor and has been exploring Mars since 2012. I first joined the Curiosity team when I was a graduate student and got my first taste of what it was like to work in mission operations. I was completely hooked and knew I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to work on NASA missions. These days, the Perseverance rover takes up most of my time. Since we’re in the early stage of the mission, we’re working seven days a week to operate Perseverance.

RK: Each new mission to Mars builds on the lessons learned from previous missions. Previous missions have “followed the water,” demonstrating the ability to explore and identify environments on Mars that may have been habitable in the past.

With Perseverance, we’re ready to take the next big step in Mars exploration and actually search for signs of ancient life at our landing site. Although our carefully chosen scientific instruments will allow us to do that, being able to confidently determine whether we’ve found signs of life on Mars is an incredibly difficult task.

We really need to be able to analyze samples of Mars in laboratories here on Earth so that we can employ the full arsenal of analytical capabilities. Perseverance is equipped to collect cores of rock and regolith and store them in ultra-clean sample tubes inside the belly of the rover. Eventually, we plan to drop these tubes off on the surface of Mars for a future mission to collect them and send them back to Earth in the early 2030s.

RK: I joined the Perseverance mission in early 2020, only a few months before launch. By that point, the mission was many years in the making and the final touches were being put on to assemble and test the rover before its journey to Mars. My initial job was to help make sure our tools and team were ready to operate Perseverance once we landed on February 18, 2021. We did a lot of role training, software development, and operations dress rehearsals to really flesh out our processes and make sure we were ready for surface operations. Now that Perseverance is on the surface of Mars, we get to do it for real. It’s a challenging and dynamic work environment, but it’s also extremely rewarding.

RK: When I was in high school, my Dad and I took frequent trips to the local observatory to learn all about astronomy and view objects in the night sky, which kindled my interest in space exploration. I also had the opportunity to attend Space Camp as a high school student, where I learned all about NASA spaceflight missions and trained like an astronaut. Both of these experiences played a huge role in inspiring me to pursue a career at NASA.

RK: If I could go back, I would tell my younger self to believe in myself more and not sweat the small stuff. We’re all our own biggest critics, and it’s easy to get down on yourself, especially when times get tough. Always remember that hard work and perseverance pay off.

RK: I think I relate the most to Parasaurolophus. I’m definitely a pack/team-oriented creature and almost always wear my hair in a ponytail, which almost resembles their characteristic curved cranial crest.

Mackenna Yount is a freshman food science major from Manitou Springs, Colorado. She loves food, is addicted to coffee, and can give you random facts or bad jokes that nobody cares about. Ask her to bake gluten-free cupcakes and she'll throw in some brownies too. Mackenna can be contacted via Twitter @mackennayount.

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