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Mars Ingenuity helicopter records record flight as NASA expands mission

The ingenious NASA helicopter, grounded Thursday from an annoying but understood software problem, successfully completed its fourth flight in the ultrathin atmosphere of Mars Friday, launched a new phase of advanced scientific operations for the $ 80 million drone.

“The ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight today, and we couldn’t be happier,” said MiMi Aung, project manager, in an online status report. “We have a lot of data to analyze. The execution of Mars’ ingenuity was perfect. It’s an amazing time for our whole team!”

Data from the helicopter, transmitted back to Earth by the Mars rover Perseverance and one of NASA̵

7;s orbits on Mars, confirm that the 4-pound helicopter took off from the Wright brothers’ field in Jezero Crater around 10:49 a.m. EDT (12:33 p.m.) Local time on Mars).

A photo from the Perseverance Mars rover captured the Ingenuity helicopter in flight on Friday (far right) as it flew more than 400 feet from the Wright Brothers Field to Jezero Crater to secure its fourth successful excursion.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS

It then climbed to a height of 16 feet, leaned south, and flew about 436 feet out and back before coming into contact one minute and 57 seconds after takeoff.

Along the way, the small drone took 60 black-and-white photos of the ground below, along with five color views, data that will be used to build a three-dimensional map of the terrain to help planning missions identify a new “airport” for future use. .

“Success,” the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the ingenuity was built, posted a message on Twitter after the data confirmed the takeoff. “#MarsHelicopter completed its 4th flight, going farther and faster than ever. He also took more pictures as he flew over the Martian surface. We expect these images to go down in a later data gear.”

NASA Chief of Science Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted: “Amazing! Congratulations to the team on Ingenuity’s fourth flight!”

The 4-kilogram helicopter added to Rover perseverance mission as a demonstration of technology, it achieved all its pre-flight goals during three nearly flawless test flights earlier this month.

As a result, NASA’s managers decided to expand the drone’s mission to include at least another month of flight operations, making the rotorcraft work to collect scientific data. At the same time, the Permanence will move from supporting helicopter operations to completing preparations for its own scientific mission.

Monumental moment: First flight to Mars


“As the ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to take advantage of future aerial platforms, while prioritizing and moving forward with the near scientific goals of the Perseverance rover team,” Zurbuchen said in an earlier statement.

For the next flight, the fifth helicopter, “we will send ingenuity with a one-way flight to transfer to the new airport,” Aung said during a briefing on Friday. “Once it arrives, we will work very closely with (the persistence team) to identify the new, working products and scenarios we want to test (forward). I can’t tell you how excited we are about this new phase.”

Initially, engineers kept two test fields in reserve in case the ingenuity failed to achieve its main goals in the first three. But these now-unnecessary seat-holders have been turned into transitional flights, filling the gap between proof of concept and operational demonstrations of aerial exploration capabilities.

“We will now … work on operational products, such as aerial surveillance of specific scientific targets or consideration of contextual characteristics from places not accessible to rovers,” Aung said. “Another operational product that we will look at is a study for potential scientific observations, a study for a future rover traverse or a study for new airports to which the helicopter should be transferred.

“We can also look at stereo images, digital altitude maps. So while we are making these products, the lessons learned from this exercise will be useful for future air platform missions. And as we pursue these operational products, we will also continue to insist on the ability of ingenuity. “”

Ingenuity captivates the world imagination with its own first flight on April 19, about a month after the arrival of Mars with the rover Perseverance. The drone climbed to a height of about 10 feet, held for a short time, and then landed.

He flies a second time on April 22, climb to 16 feet and fly about seven feet to one side and then back. For his third flight on April 25, ingenuity climbed back to 16 feet and flew 164 feet down before returning to its starting point.

An earlier image of a helicopter of ingenuity resting on the surface of Mars after its release from the Perseverance rover.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

“When Ingenuity’s feet touched after this third flight, we knew we had more than enough data to help engineers design future generations of helicopters on Mars,” said Bob Balaram, JPL’s chief engineer at JPL, in an online report. about the condition. “We now plan to expand our reach, speed and duration to get a further idea of ​​efficiency.”

The team originally planned to launch the helicopter on its fourth flight on Thursday, but data sent back to Earth shows that Ingenuity’s flight computer failed to go into flight mode as expected.

A similar problem occurred on April 9 during the rotor rotation test before the drone first flight.

At the time, engineers were discussing whether to delete Ingenuity’s flight software and load a modified version from scratch, or simply upload additional commands to improve the chances of a successful flight transition.

They decided that the latter option posed less risk, but said it was possible for the bug to recur at that time. The ingenuity then performed three successful consecutive test flights entering the scheduled flight for Thursday, when it again failed to enter flight mode.

The system was operating normally on Friday. Balaram said the team could re-evaluate whether to replace Ingenuity’s flight software with a modified version to avoid similar problems on the road.

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