Mars 'copter Ingenuity still flying high, spots hazards for the Perseverance rover

Science

SYFY WIRE 13 July, 2021 - 08:00am 36 views

The helicopter landed on Mars along with Perseverance, tucked underneath the two-ton mobile chemistry lab. It was dropped onto the dusty ground in March 2021 and took its first flight on April 19. It's designed as a technology testbed, to see how flight could be achieved on Mars, how the drone could communicate to the rover while also determining its position as it flew along the surface. After its fifth flight in May, the mission was extended to include aiding the rover in actual operations.

From ten meters above the surface, Ingenuity spotted a dune field (nicknamed Séítah), likely sand rippling about a meter high or so (in all the images shown here you can see one of the ‘copter's landing gear in the upper left). While the topography isn't a problem for the rover, Perseverance could get bogged down in the sand going down a dune face, getting trapped. Seeing as how that could end the mission, operators on Earth are very wary of such areas.

While there dunes were known to be there from orbital imagery, it's also nice to have the helicopter spotting them before the rover gets near them. At the very least, it saves time. Scientifically, too, it provides a view from a low height of an interesting wind-sculpted feature that the rover can only see from the side.

It also spotted a region where the dunes meet a patch of bedrock, which would have been the bottom of the lake eons ago.

The main reason the duo are in Jezero Crater is that if life ever flourished on Mars, a standing lake with water flowing into and out of it is an excellent place to look for it. We don't know if Mars was ever inhabited, but if it was it likely would've been from wee microscopic beasties. On Earth, ancient life left behind fossilized microbial mats (flat layers of bacterial colonies) and stromatolites (chunks of rock formed from sand cemented together by bacteria). Perseverance is looking for just that sort of macroscopic feature, but is also collecting promising samples of the surface that will be sent to Earth in later missions.

That's why this formation is interesting:

That's a fracture system, broken rocks where water flowed through them. Life needs energy and food to survive, and minerals from rocks picked up by water could supply that nourishment. Perseverance may take drill samples there to look for anything that might've been tasty to the potential Martian microbes.

We still don't know for sure what happened to Mars. It used to be much more clement, but some catastrophe in its history changed all that. A leading idea is that its magnetic field shut down, and it lost protection from the solar wind. This fierce gale of subatomic particles from the Sun could've stripped away the Martian atmosphere, lowering pressure so much that the water boiled away and the surface froze.

Looking around at the broiling Pacific northwest, the wildfire season already roaringly underway, hurricanes forming early, temperature extremes being broken all over the world, and once-a-century rains and flooding happening every few years, I have to think that understanding global changes in planetary climates may be of more than just academic interest. We're living them. The more we know about them, the better. If studying Mars gives us any insight into what's happening here, than I am all for it.

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Mars chopper completes 9th test flight

Click On Detroit | Local 4 | WDIV 14 July, 2021 - 01:18pm

These coloured pictures from Ingenuity helicopter offer new insights into unseen Martian world

India Today 14 July, 2021 - 01:18pm

The quadcopter during its most challenging flight clicked pictures of the crater floor, dunes and ridges when it soared into the air for over 165 seconds. The new pictures offer a glimpse into the geological features in the region that will be used by the Perseverance rover to chart its course as it looks for signs of ancient life.

The helicopter, which will serve as an aerial scout for the rover, captured images from a height of around 33 feet, offering the Perseverance team greater detail than they get from the orbiter images hovering above the planet. "Once a rover gets close enough to a location, we get ground-scale images that we can compare to orbital images. With Ingenuity, we now have this intermediate-scale imagery that nicely fills the gap in resolution,” said Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford of Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

The helicopter spotted sand dunes that are knee or waist-high in depth and could cause the two-ton rover to be stuck. The dunes have accumulated over millions of years. Sand has always remained a big concern for engineers operating rovers on Mars as recently, the InSight team had faced mission-critical power failure due to the accumulation of sand on the solar panels. “If we drive downhill into a dune, we could embed ourselves into it and not be able to get back out,” said JPL’s Olivier Toupet, who drives rovers on Mars.

The helicopter also captured images of bedrock embedded in the sand, which would never have been seen without the aerial option. The image captured by Ingenuity offers enough detail to inspect these rocks and get a better understanding of this area of Jezero Crater.

“The helicopter is an extremely valuable asset for rover planning because it provides high-resolution imagery of the terrain we want to drive through. We can better assess the size of the dunes and where bedrock is poking out. That’s great information for us; it helps identify which areas may be traversable by the rover and whether certain high-value science targets are reachable,” Toupet added.

In its ninth flight, Ingenuity flew for 166.4 seconds and managed to gain an airspeed of 5 meters per second. The hop was part of a high-speed flight across unfriendly terrain that has now placed the helicopter farther away from its home station Perseverance rover.

Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover, that dropped Ingenuity on the surface of Mars began its journey in search of ancient microbial life on the floor of the Jezero crater.

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NASA Helicopter Delivers Stunning Photos of Martian Landscape from 33 Feet Up – LOOK

Good News Network 14 July, 2021 - 10:55am

The little helicopter that the Perseverance rover brought along to Mars has repaid its big brother for the tagalong—snapping aerial images of the Red Planet the rover can then use to help its journey across the Jezero Crater.

Having performed the first ever rotary flight on Mars earlier this year, NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter is now on its ninth flight—and on July 5th, it revealed details about the over-and-underlying geography of Mars that will be crucial to completing the rover’s mission.

During its recent two-minutes and forty-six seconds in the air, the helicopter quadrupled its own record for distance covered, and also broke records for cruising speed and time as it moved over an area called Séítah—which will be difficult for a rover like Perseverance to navigate due to the soft sand there.

It also snapped amazing images of rippling sand, shadows, rock, and other Utah-like terrain features.

“We’re hoping the color images will provide the closest look yet at ‘Pilot Pinnacle’, a location featuring outcrops that some team members think may record some of the deepest water environments in old Lake Jezero,” wrote Ingenuity team members on the project website.

MORE: Listen to the First Eerie Sounds From Mars: China’s Rover Films Itself Driving on Red Planet, Making History

Indeed this most recent flight, and the photos that took three days to be beamed back and processed, revealed some high-value science targets like the so-called Raised Ridges that NASA scientists believe could be the key to finding remains of ancient life in a lakebed that’s billions of years old.

“Spying the ridges in images from Mars orbiters, scientists have wondered whether water might have flowed through these fractures at some point, dissolving minerals that could help feed ancient microbial colonies,” write NASA.

Other areas found during Flight 9 include open sand dunes of which Perseverance must avoid at all costs—or risk getting stuck—and images of Martian bedrock, which looks like an interesting feature to be later checked out by the rover.

CHECK OUT: NASA Image Shows the Spectacular Beauty of the Milky Way’s ‘Downtown’

“Our current plan is to visit Raised Ridges and investigate it close up,” Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford said. “The helicopter’s images are by far better in resolution than the orbital ones we were using. Studying these will allow us to ensure that visiting these ridges is important to the team.” That’s an important detail when the mission’s schedule is tight and power resources are limited.

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New photos from the Mars helicopter Ingenuity's 9th flight help refine Perseverance rover science goals

Space.com 13 July, 2021 - 01:00pm

Images taken by the Ingenuity helicopter reveal details of the surface of Mars that can't be seen with orbiting cameras.

"Our current plan is to visit Raised Ridges and investigate it close up," Williford said. "The helicopter's images are by far better in resolution than the orbital ones we were using. Studying these will allow us to ensure that visiting these ridges is important to the team."

During its last flight, Ingenuity also flew over the Séítah dune field, which the Perseverance rover is expected to drive past. But with a sand layer that can be over 3 feet deep in places, the dunes present a potential trap for the six-wheeled rover. 

"The helicopter is an extremely valuable asset for rover planning because it provides high-resolution imagery of the terrain we want to drive through," said Toupet. "We can better assess the size of the dunes and where bedrock is poking out. That's great information for us; it helps identify which areas may be traversable by the rover and whether certain high-value science targets are reachable."

The latest images, unfortunately, revealed that the Séítah field would be too risky for Perseverance to attempt any bolder scientific exploration. The ground-control teams, however, can use the images to better plan scientific operations in other dune fields that the rover is going to explore in the future, NASA said in the statement. 

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NASA Is Already Working on a Bigger, Better Mars Helicopter

Futurism 13 July, 2021 - 11:22am

Coming up next is the “Mars Science Helicopter,” Space.com reports, which is a six-rotor aircraft concept currently under development by the existing Ingenuity team. Though the aircraft isn’t yet an official NASA mission, the engineers say they want the upcoming hexacopter to be able to soar around for miles at a time, hinting at a bold new era for aerial exploration on the Red Planet.

“We can get to locations that rovers can’t access, like cliffside walls or difficult-to-traverse terrains, or even down into caves,” Ingenuity operations lead Theodore Tzanetos told Space.com.

As NASA works on future, yet-unnamed Mars aircraft, it may be easy to overlook how much the current Marscopter, Ingenuity, has already accomplished.

The small helicopter has now completed nine increasingly-ambitious test flights, traveling greater distances and sending more valuable data back home over time — and the string of successes makes it easy to forget that NASA wasn’t sure it would take off in Mars’ thin atmosphere at all.

“Ingenuity is a technology demonstrator,” Tzanetos told Space.com. “Our core goal, our prime directive, is to prove that we can fly on Mars… to have that Wright Brothers moment for the first time and hopefully blow the doors open for the future exploration capabilities on the Red Planet.”

READ MORE: NASA is mapping out plans for bigger, more capable Mars helicopters [Space.com]

More on Ingenuity: NASA’s Mars Helicopter Sends Back Stunning Color Photos

NASA's Mars helicopter reveals intriguing terrain for rover team

Phys.org 13 July, 2021 - 08:50am

by Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The color images from Ingenuity, taken from a height of around 33 feet (10 meters), offer the rover team much greater detail than they get from the orbiter images they typically use for route planning. While a camera like HiRISE (the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can resolve rocks about 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter, missions usually rely on rover images to see smaller rocks or terrain features.

"Once a rover gets close enough to a location, we get ground-scale images that we can compare to orbital images," said Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "With Ingenuity, we now have this intermediate-scale imagery that nicely fills the gap in resolution."

Below are a few of Ingenuity's images, which completed the long journey back to Earth on July 8.

Ingenuity (its shadow is visible at the bottom of this image) offered a high-resolution glimpse of rock features nicknamed "Raised Ridges." They belong to a fracture system, which often serve as pathways for fluid to flow underground.

Here in Jezero Crater, a lake existed billions of years ago. Spying the ridges in images from Mars orbiters, scientists have wondered whether water might have flowed through these fractures at some point, dissolving minerals that could help feed ancient microbial colonies. That would make them a prime location to look for signs of ancient life—and perhaps to drill a sample.

The samples Perseverance takes will eventually be deposited on Mars for a future mission that would take them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

"Our current plan is to visit Raised Ridges and investigate it close up," Williford said. "The helicopter's images are by far better in resolution than the orbital ones we were using. Studying these will allow us to ensure that visiting these ridges is important to the team."

Sand dunes like the ones in this image keep rover drivers like JPL's Olivier Toupet awake at night: Knee- or waist-high, they could easily cause the two-ton rover to get stuck. After landing in February, Perseverance scientists asked whether it was possible to make a beeline across this terrain; Toupet's answer was a hard no.

"Sand is a big concern," said Toupet, who leads the team of mobility experts that plans Perseverance's drives. "If we drive downhill into a dune, we could embed ourselves into it and not be able to get back out."

Toupet is also the lead for Perseverance's newly tested AutoNav feature, which uses artificial intelligence algorithms to drive the rover autonomously over greater distances than could be achieved otherwise. While good at avoiding rocks and other hazards, AutoNav can't detect sand, so human drivers still need to define "keep-out zones" around areas that could entrap the rover.

Without Ingenuity, visible in silhouette at the bottom of this next image, Perseverance's scientists would never get to see this section of Séítah so clearly: It's too sandy for Perseverance to visit. The unique view offers enough detail to inspect these rocks and get a better understanding of this area of Jezero Crater.

As the rover works its way around the dune field, it may make what the team calls a "toe dip" into some scientifically compelling spots with interesting bedrock. While Toupet and his team wouldn't attempt a toe dip here, the recent images from Ingenuity will allow them to plan potential toe-dip paths in other regions along the route of Perseverance's first science campaign.

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NASA is mapping out plans for bigger, more capable Mars helicopters

Space.com 13 July, 2021 - 06:05am

The Mars Science Helicopter could do a variety of work on the Red Planet.

Researchers have already gleaned loads of technical information from Ingenuity's off-Earth flights, steadily pushing its capabilities. Now they want to use that data to push for development of a new aerial system for Mars investigation.

"Ingenuity is a technology demonstrator. Our core goal, our prime directive, is to prove that we can fly on Mars…to have that Wright Brothers moment for the first time and hopefully blow the doors open for the future exploration capabilities on the Red Planet," said Ingenuity operations lead Theodore Tzanetos of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.

Tzanetos provided a review of Ingenuity's flights to date and a preview of future sorties, and he also laid out the basics of a possible follow-on Mars aircraft. He spoke during a June 21 virtual gathering of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), which is responsible for providing science input needed for NASA to plan and prioritize Mars exploration activities. 

Ingenuity came into being thanks to a small but passionate team, Tzanetos emphasized, that involved JPL, AeroVironment, Inc., NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Qualcomm, NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia, and SolAero.

Since Ingenuity's first flight on April 19, "we have been collecting a treasure trove of engineering data," Tzanetos said. "Every one of the flights afterwards was built on that [first] success."

Ingenuity made its debut flight in April, a roughly 30-second affair from takeoff to landing. The little chopper aced four additional flights over the next few weeks, wrapping up its original technology-demonstration mission in early May.

"The focus is to try and become as efficient as possible," Tzanetos said during his MEPAG talk. "We're really starting to stretch our wings, so to speak, in the distances, flight times and height above ground level."

Doing so showcased that Ingenuity is able to produce high-resolution imagery downfield. For example, Ingenuity operators found, after the fact, that color images of Jezero's Séítah geologic unit — a sandy stretch of terrain that is viewed as tough for Perseverance to traverse — led to "serendipitous science targeting" of value to rover operators, Tzanetos said. "The scouting capability is what we hope to explore a bit more in the weeks to come."

Ingenuity controllers would eventually like to push for flights that cover 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) of ground apiece, which would require the helicopter to stay aloft for up to three minutes. "That would really be pushing the limits of what this technology demonstrator is capable of in terms of a flight vehicle," Tzanetos said.

As for the future of Mars rotorcraft, one idea on the table is a next-generation, six-rotor "hexacopter" platform.

"We're calling this the Mars Science Helicopter," Tzanetos said of the concept, which is not an official NASA mission at this point. "What science is enabled by having this aerial dimension added?" Now being assessed are science payloads in the 4-lb. to 11-lb. range (1.8 to 5 kilograms) carried by a hexacopter that can cruise roughly 6 miles (10 km) per flight. 

"We can get to locations that rovers can't access, like cliffside walls or difficult-to-traverse terrains, or even down into caves," Tzanetos added. Furthermore, there's an ability to customize a science mission of an aerial craft to carry different payload masses, adjust hover times and flight ranges, he said.

"We're open to ideas and new concepts. Insert your mission … with your favorite concept for future rotorcraft on Mars," Tzanetos told the MEPAG participants.

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NASA’s Mars Helicopter Spots Intriguing Terrain for Perseverance Rover to Explore

SciTechDaily 13 July, 2021 - 05:51am

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this image of tracks made by the Perseverance rover during its ninth flight, on July 5. A portion of the helicopter’s landing gear can be seen at top left. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Images snapped on July 5 by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on its ambitious ninth flight have offered scientists and engineers working with the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover an unprecedented opportunity to scout out the road ahead. Ingenuity provided new insight into where different rock layers begin and end, each layer serving as a time capsule for how conditions in the ancient climate changed at this location. The flight also revealed obstacles the rover may have to drive around as it explores Jezero Crater.

During the flight – designed to test the helicopter’s ability to serve as an aerial scout – Ingenuity soared over a dune field nicknamed “Séítah.” Perseverance is making a detour south around those dunes, which would be too risky for the six-wheeled rover to try crossing.

This annotated image of Jezero Crater depicts the routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The color images from Ingenuity, taken from a height of around 33 feet (10 meters), offer the rover team much greater detail than they get from the orbiter images (such as the one above) they typically use for route planning. While a camera like HiRISE (the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter can resolve rocks about 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter, missions usually rely on rover images to see smaller rocks or terrain features.

“Once a rover gets close enough to a location, we get ground-scale images that we can compare to orbital images,” said Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “With Ingenuity, we now have this intermediate-scale imagery that nicely fills the gap in resolution.”

Below are a few of Ingenuity’s images, which completed the long journey back to Earth on July 8.

Ingenuity (its shadow is visible at the bottom of this image) offered a high-resolution glimpse of rock features nicknamed “Raised Ridges.” They belong to a fracture system, which often serve as pathways for fluid to flow underground.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter spotted this location, nicknamed “Raised Ridges,” during its ninth flight, on July 5. Scientists hope to visit “Raised Ridges” with the Perseverance rover in the future. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Here in Jezero Crater, a lake existed billions of years ago. Spying the ridges in images from Mars orbiters, scientists have wondered whether water might have flowed through these fractures at some point, dissolving minerals that could help feed ancient microbial colonies. That would make them a prime location to look for signs of ancient life – and perhaps to drill a sample.

The samples Perseverance takes will eventually be deposited on Mars for a future mission that would take them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

“Our current plan is to visit Raised Ridges and investigate it close up,” Williford said. “The helicopter’s images are by far better in resolution than the orbital ones we were using. Studying these will allow us to ensure that visiting these ridges is important to the team.”

Sand dunes like the ones in this image keep rover drivers like JPL’s Olivier Toupet awake at night: Knee- or waist-high, they could easily cause the two-ton rover to get stuck. After landing in February, Perseverance scientists asked whether it was possible to make a beeline across this terrain; Toupet’s answer was a hard no.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flew over this dune field in a region of Jezero Crater nicknamed “Séítah” during its ninth flight, on July 5, 2021. A portion of the helicopter’s landing gear can be seen at top left. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Sand is a big concern,” said Toupet, who leads the team of mobility experts that plans Perseverance’s drives. “If we drive downhill into a dune, we could embed ourselves into it and not be able to get back out.”

Toupet is also the lead for Perseverance’s newly tested AutoNav feature, which uses artificial intelligence algorithms to drive the rover autonomously over greater distances than could be achieved otherwise. While good at avoiding rocks and other hazards, AutoNav can’t detect sand, so human drivers still need to define “keep-out zones” around areas that could entrap the rover.

Without Ingenuity, visible in silhouette at the bottom of this next image, Perseverance’s scientists would never get to see this section of Séítah so clearly: It’s too sandy for Perseverance to visit. The unique view offers enough detail to inspect these rocks and get a better understanding of this area of Jezero Crater.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flew over these sand dunes and rocks during its ninth flight, on July 5, 2021. While the agency’s Perseverance Mars can’t risk getting stuck in this sand, scientists are still able to learn about this region by studying it from Ingenuity’s images. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As the rover works its way around the dune field, it may make what the team calls a “toe dip” into some scientifically compelling spots with interesting bedrock. While Toupet and his team wouldn’t attempt a toe dip here, the recent images from Ingenuity will allow them to plan potential toe-dip paths in other regions along the route of Perseverance’s first science campaign.

“The helicopter is an extremely valuable asset for rover planning because it provides high-resolution imagery of the terrain we want to drive through,” said Toupet. “We can better assess the size of the dunes and where bedrock is poking out. That’s great information for us; it helps identify which areas may be traversable by the rover and whether certain high-value science targets are reachable.”

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the technology demonstration project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautics Research, and Space Technology mission directorates. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Martin Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

JPL manages the MRO mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado.

Mars helicopter and Perseverance rover are conjugate parts now for Mars exploration mission.

Two successful parts of unique mars mission are mars helicopter and Perseverance rover.

Egyptian archeologists use satellite to search for structure hidden underneath the sand and have been successful. Can this technology be use to search for structures under the sand that are not natural but built by intelligent life?

Egyptian archeologists use satellite to search for structure hidden underneath the sand and have been successful. Can this technology be use on Mars to search for structures under the sand (dunes) that are not natural but built by intelligent life?

In the top right-hand corner of the dunes image, there is what appears to be a large, perfectly spherical object with a smooth surface which reflects light and possibly has holes in. Would be very interesting if Perseverance could investigate this anomaly, even just to prove it is natural.

The image with the helicopter shadow has a large upright septre with a trapezoidal head, above the shadow (therefore larger than the helicopter) sticking out of the ground

It’s all fakery…wake up. There is no outer space. They are on some desert on earth. Give me a break. How gullible can the masses me?

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