NASA Mars helicopter snaps awe-inspiring, midair view of Perseverance

Science

CNET 28 April, 2021 - 10:23am 9 views

The one-tonne robot, which acts as the drone's radio base-station, is seen nestled in the upper-left corner of a newly released image.

The picture was acquired by Ingenuity during its third demonstration flight on Sunday.

At the time, the mini-helicopter was about 85m from the rover and flying laterally at an altitude of 5m.

Sunday's sortie was the most ambitious yet for for Ingenuity and saw it travel 100m over the course of 80 seconds.

Nasa says the drone's next two flights, to be conducted in the coming days, will be its last and will push the chopper technology very hard in terms of speed and distance travelled.

Engineers want to find the Ingenuity's limits, even if that means crashing it in the process.

The major difficulty in flying on the Red Planet is the very thin atmosphere, which has just 1% of the density here at Earth.

This gives the rotor blades on a rotorcraft very little to bite into to produce lift. There's help from the lower gravity at Mars, but still - it takes a lot of work to get up off the ground.

The Nasa chopper was therefore made extremely light and given the power to turn those blades super-fast - at over 2,500 revolutions per minute.

Ingenuity was carried to Mars by the Perseverance rover, which landed in Jezero Crater in mid-February.

As well as acting as a base station for the chopper, the six-wheeled robot has been taking stills and movies to document the demonstration flights. Soon, however, Perseverance must abandon the helicopter to begin its primary mission of searching for signs of life on the Red Planet.

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Nasa's Mars helicopter takes third successful flight

The Independent 29 April, 2021 - 12:00am

Mars helicopter Ingenuity spots Perseverance rover from the air (photo)

Space.com 29 April, 2021 - 12:00am

We've never seen a Mars rover from this vantage point before.

"Oh hey, there I am! Never thought I’d be the subject of another photographer on Mars. Great capture by the #MarsHelicopter team," Perseverance's handlers said via the rover's official @NASAPersevereTwitter account on Tuesday evening (April 27), when the photo was released.

NASA's Pathfinder lander photographed the first-ever Mars rover, Sojourner, on the Red Planet back in 1997. But both of those robots were firmly on the ground.

The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper was about 279 feet (85 meters) from Perseverance when it took the photo, flying at an altitude of about 16.5 feet (5 m), NASA officials said in a photo description.  

The milestone occurred during Ingenuity's third flight on Mars, its most ambitious sortie to date. Ingenuity traveled much faster and farther on Sunday than it had previously, covering about a total distance of about 330 feet (100 m).

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars. The rotorcraft carries no science instruments but is paving the way for future Mars helicopters that could gather lots of data on their own and also serve as scouts for rovers and human pioneers on the Red Planet, NASA officials have said.

The Ingenuity team aims to pack two more flights into the helicopter's month-long flight window, which closes in early May. And there won't be an extension of that window; Perseverance, which has been documenting and supporting Ingenuity's work, needs to start focusing on its own life-hunting, sample-gathering mission soon.

Those final two hops will likely be even more complex and ambitious than Sunday's sortie, for the team wants to push the little robot's limits. Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said earlier this month that she'd like the helicopter to travel about 2,000 feet (600 m) on its fifth and final flight, if possible.

That would be quite a journey — one that Ingenuity would hopefully document with many more gorgeous photos from the air.

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Ingenuity Takes Flight

CNN 10 29 April, 2021 - 12:00am

Mystery solved? Heat-trapping clouds may explain ancient Mars' rivers and lakes

Space.com 29 April, 2021 - 12:00am

However, the new modeling work by Kite and his colleagues indicates that wispy but warming clouds could indeed have formed high above the planet, trapping enough heat for liquid water to persist on the surface — but only if certain conditions were met.

For example, the Martian surface had to be covered in ice only patchily, likely on mountaintops and near the planet's poles. More extensive ice cover would have favored the formation of low-altitude clouds, which aren't great at trapping heat and may even be a net negative, reflecting enough sunlight away to cool Mars down further, the researchers said.

The team's work reinforces that Mars is an alien world, with its own special processes and properties.

"In the model, these clouds behave in a very un-Earth-like way," Kite said. "Building models on Earth-based intuition just won't work, because this is not at all similar to Earth's water cycle, which moves water quickly between the atmosphere and the surface."

Still, the new research could help us better understand our own planet, as well as the history and evolution of habitable worlds more generally, he added.

"Mars is important because it's the only planet we know of that had the ability to support life — and then lost it," Kite said. "Earth's long-term climate stability is remarkable. We want to understand all the ways in which a planet's long-term climate stability can break down — and all of the ways (not just Earth's way) that it can be maintained. This quest defines the new field of comparative planetary habitability."

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Aerial photos of martian surface

FOX59 News 29 April, 2021 - 12:00am

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Photographed a Friend on Its Third Mars Flight

Gizmodo 28 April, 2021 - 09:21am

Indeed, this view of a Martian probe from a slightly elevated vantage point is without equal. Sure, rovers have taken selfies, and satellites have spotted them from Mars orbit, but this image will go down in history as being the first to show a rover from the perspective of an aerial drone.

A reasonable comparison dates back to 1997, when NASA’s Pathfinder lander snapped a photo of Sojourner prior to its deployment, followed by images of the tiny rover working on the surface.

More: In third Mars flight, Ingenuity goes beyond all tests done on Earth.

NASA shares bird's-eye-view photo of Perseverance taken by Ingenuity

Daily Mail 28 April, 2021 - 08:11am

By Ryan Morrison For Mailonline

NASA has shared a 'bird's eye view' image of the Perseverance rover, taken by the Ingenuity helicopter as it soared above the Martian surface.

In a tweet, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team said: 'I spy with my little eye…a rover,' sharing the image with Perseverance visible in the top left corner.

It was taken during the third flight of the autonomous copter that happened on April 25 and saw it fly to an altitude of 16ft and travel for 64ft before landing again. 

At the peak it was moving at 6.6ft per second, or 4.5 miles per hour. In contrast, the Perseverance rover, captured in the latest images, travels at 0.1 miles per hour. 

Ingenuity is a technical demonstration, with no science experiments on board, as it is designed to prove a flying vehicle could be used on the Red Planet. 

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted: 'I spy with my little eye…a rover,' sharing the image taken by Ingenuity as it flew above the Martian surface showing the rover in the top left corner

The high resolution camera allowed NASA to zoom in and show the SUV-sized Perseverance rover despite it being over 200ft away from the helicopter

Ingenuity was designed as a technology demonstrator rather than carrying any of its own science experiments or equipment.

It rode to Mars attached to the belly of the SUV-size Perseverance rover.

The helicopter took off from the 'Wright Brothers Field' on Monday April 19, making history as the first powered flight on another world.

For the first flight, the helicopter took off, climbed to about 10ft above the ground, hovered in the air briefly, completed a turn, and then landed. 

It is built to be light and strong to survive the harsh Martian environment.

It weighs just under 4lb and is only 19 inches tall as it has to fly in the much thinner atmosphere - about 1% that of the atmosphere found on Earth.

It can fly up to 980ft, go up to 16ft in the sky and can spend about 90 seconds in the air before landing.

The rotors are 4ft in diameter and the craft includes solar panels that charge lithium-ion batteries.

It has a 30 day lifespan, with a total of five flights expected in that time. 

So far Ingenuity has made three flights on the Red Planet, the first, historic flight, took place on Monday April 19 and saw the copter go up 10ft and hover.

The second flight pushed 'harder and further' going up to 16ft and then travelling for 7ft before stopping to take three full colour photos of the landscape. 

For the third flight, the helicopter also traveled up to 16ft in the sky, moved almost half the length of a football field (64ft) and increased its airspeed to 4.5 mph. 

During this epic voyage into the Martian sky, the chopper captured a number of images of the landscape below, including one of the Perseverance rover.

It is very difficult to spot the SUV-sized rover as it is just visible in the top left corner of the high definition image showing the Martian orange/red soil below. 

Ingenuity arrived on Mars strapped to the belly of the SUV-sized rover, which acts as a relay station allowing Earth to communicate with the 4lb helicopter from Earth.

The latest image shared by JPL gives a brief glimpse of the rover, sat in the top left corner of the photograph as it watches the flight from 210ft away.

NASA has named this vantage point overlooking Wright Brothers Field the 'Van Zyl Overlook' after Jakob van Zyl, a longterm member of the Perseverance team who died unexpectedly in August 2020, a month after the vehicle left the Earth. 

The Perseverance team said: 'Oh hey, there I am! Never thought I'd be the subject of another photographer on Mars. Great capture by the #MarsHelicopter team.' 

The first flight saw the team share a single black and white image of the helicopter shadow on the ground below, taken with its navigation camera. 

After the second flight on April 22 NASA shared three colour images using the high resolution camera on board the helicopter, which has a 4208 x 3120-pixel sensor. 

'The image, as well as the inset showing a closeup of a portion of the tracks [of] the Perseverance Mars rover and Mars surface features, demonstrates the utility of scouting Martian terrain from an aerial perspective,' NASA explained. 

The third flight saw the agency share more pictures of the Martian horizon, including one revealing the rover - the first image of a rover taken by another vehicle. 

Perseverance has been filming the helicopter as it takes to the sky, capturing the entire 80 second third flight with its Mastcam-Z camera. 

NASA shared the first colour aerial images of the surface of Mars that was taken by Ingenuity during its second successful flight through the Martian atmosphere on April 22

The main purpose of Mastcam-Z, a camera mounted on a mast attached to Perseverance, is to take photos and video in high definition.

It is also able to capture panoramic, colour and 3D images of features in the atmosphere and on the surface.

It has a zoom lens so it can magnify distant targets, making it perfect to track the first Ingenuity flight.

It is mounted at the eye level of a 6 and a half foot tall person with two cameras about 9.5 inches apart.

NASA says it is the 'main eyes' of the Perseverance rover.  

NASA announced it is now preparing for a fourth flight. Each flight is planned to be of increasing difficulty in order to push Ingenuity to its limits.

It can fly up to 980ft, go up to 16ft in the sky and can spend about 90 seconds in the air before it has to land - this is due to the maximum battery duration.

The rotors on the 18inch tall vehicle are 4ft in diameter and the craft includes solar panels that charge lithium-ion batteries.

It has a 30 day lifespan, with a total of five flights expected in that time - the final flight due to happen before the end of May, assuming it survives flight four. 

Ingenuity first made history on April 18 when it became the first powered craft to fly on another planet in what NASA deems a 'Wright Brothers moment.'  

Flying on Mars is particularly challenging due to the fact its atmosphere is just one percent of Earth's at ground level, and while the lower gravity, a third of that on Earth, helps, it is only a partial offset against the thinner atmosphere.

This means that in order to fly, the helicopter has be ultra-light and rotate its blades extremely fast in order to achieve lift. For today's test flight the blades spun to 2,500rpm, allowing it to hover 10 feet off the ground. 

A part of Ingenuity's shadow was captured as it hovered over the dusty Martian landscape on April 22. And the image also shows tread markings left in the ground by Perseverance's six tires during the trip of dropping Ingenuity off at the Martian airfield that has since been named 'Wright Brothers Field

That is up five times faster than the blades of a helicopter on Earth. Smaller choppers' blades spin up to 500 times a minute in flight, while larger aircraft may only spin their blades 225 times a minute. 

'What is exciting is that this helicopter has flown hundreds, if not thousands of times, but always in simulations, said Håvard Fjær Grip, Ingenuity Chief Pilot, following the first flight.

One of the images captured on the second flight shows the shadow of the helicopter as it hovers over the Martian surface. 

Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are exploring Jezero crater on the Red Planet

The images also showed tread markings left in the ground by Perseverance's six tires during the trip to drop Ingenuity off at 'Wright Brothers Field' where it took off.

'As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration,' said NASA.

'While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked.' 

On April 22, the copter marked its second successful flight, which was higher than the previous, when it climbed to 16 feet above the surface

Ingenuity completed its third (pictured) powered flight on Mars on April 25. The copter covered a light distance of 64 feet while hitting speeds of 4.5mpg – four times faster than before

The imagery of that first flight was captured by Perseverance with its Navcam and Mastcam-Z cameras - showing the drone lift, shuffle and land. 

'Every image we get of the helicopter on Mars is special to me: After all, this has never been done before,' explained MiMi Aung from the Ingenuity team.

'But I have to say that of all the images, perhaps the one that will stay with me the most is that image from the helicopter's navigation camera.' 

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars

The black-and-white image was taken when the rotorcraft was just 3.9ft above the ground, showing the shadow of Ingenuity with its two rotors over the surface of the 'Wright Brothers Field' soon after takeoff. 

'When I first saw [that image], I immediately thought of the picture Buzz Aldrin took of his boot print on the lunar surface,' adding 'that iconic image from Apollo 11 said 'we walked on the Moon;' ours says 'we flew on another world,' said Aung. 

The Ingenuity experiment will end in one month in order to let Perseverance return to its main task: searching for signs of past microbial life on Mars.

NASA's Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of ancient life on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth. 

Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover will explore an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.

It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside - and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance landed inside the crater and will collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

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