Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to NASA‘s Perseverance Mars rover, has sent its first status update to Earth in a milestone ahead of the first attempt at powered flight on the Red Planet.
Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said on Saturday that the downlink from Ingenuity confirmed that the helicopter and its base station are operating as expected.
It will likely be at 30 to 60 days before any attempt is made to deploy Ingenuity on the Mars surface and attempt flight, but mission controllers celebrated the confirmation that Ingenuity survived Thursday’s landing at Jezero Crater attached to the belly of Perseverance.
‘There are two big-ticket items we are looking for in the data: the state of charge of Ingenuity’s batteries as well as confirmation the base station is operating as designed, commanding heaters to turn off and on to keep the helicopter’s electronics within an expected range,’ said Tim Canham, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter operations lead at JPL.
‘Both appear to be working great. With this positive report, we will move forward with tomorrow’s charge of the helicopter’s batteries,’ he added.
Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, has sent its first status update to Earth reporting systems are operating as expected. Above, an artist’s rendering shows the rover and mini-chopper on Mars
NASA engineers are seen working on Ingenuity prior to launch from Earth. The first test flight of the rotor craft on Mars is not expected for another 30 to 60 days at least, as a number of checkpoints need to be met before the test
Perseverance is seen being lowered by the sky crane from the ‘jet pack’ to the surface of Mars on Thursday. The Ingenuity mini-helicopter is attached to the rover’s undercarriage
Weighing just four pounds, Ingenuity was specially designed to fly in the Martian atmosphere, which is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s at sea level.
The rotor craft is equipped with cameras to image the surface of Mars and assist with research, but its primary goal is to serve as a proof of concept for helicopter flight on the Red Planet.
Mission planners hope that the helicopter successfully demonstrates technology that could be used for scouting on future robotic and even manned missions to Mars.
‘These advanced robotic flying vehicles would offer a unique viewpoint not provided by current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground, providing high-definition images and reconnaissance for robots or humans, and enable access to terrain that is difficult for rovers to reach,’ NASA said in a statement.
Following the initial status update on Saturday, the next step for Ingenuity will be to receive a full battery top-up from Ingenuity’s radioisotope thermoelectric power generator.
An initial one-hour power-up will boost the rotor craft’s batteries to about 30 percent of their total capacity. A few days after that, they’ll be charged again to reach 35 percent, with future charging sessions planned weekly while the helicopter is attached to the rover.
Weighing just four pounds, Ingenuity was specially designed to fly in the Martian atmosphere, which is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s at sea level. If it succeeds, it would be the first powered flight on another planet (artist rendering)
The rotor craft, seen in an artist’s rendering, is equipped with cameras to image the surface of Mars and assist with research, but its primary goal is to serve as a proof of concept for helicopter flight on the Red Planet
If the first 20-second test flight is successful, up to four additional longer flights could follow, all captured by the cameras and microphones on Perseverance (artist’s rendering)
Like much of the chopper, Ingenuity’s six lithium-ion batteries are off-the-shelf. While the craft is attached to the rover, it can be charged by Perseverance’s power core, but once it deploys Ingenuity will be solely dependent on solar panels to recharge.
After Ingenuity is fully charged, mission controllers will have to find a suitable flat spot to use as a helipad and position Perseverance for deployment. This step is not expected for another 30 to 60 days at least.
If all goes well, Ingenuity will deploy from the undercarriage of Perseverance, folding down from the rover after a debris shield is ejected.
Once deployed, Ingenuity will have to prove that it can survive the harsh Martian night, when temperatures dip as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
If all goes well, the first flight on another world will likely be a brief, 20 second takeoff, hover and landing to prove that the craft’s mechanical systems are all in order.
Ingenuity is seen as it would be stowed on the undercarriage of Perseverance. The chopper will flip down from the rover’s underbelly after a debris shield is ejected, if all goes well
A prototype of Ingenuity is seen during testing. Once deployed, Ingenuity will have to prove that it can survive the harsh Martian night, when temperatures dip as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit
An Ingenuity prototype is seen being tested in a chamber replicating the Mars atmosphere. Martian atmosphere is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s at sea level, and is 96% carbon dioxide
NASA says that if Ingenuity succeeds in taking off and hovering during its first flight, over 90 of the project’s goals will have been achieved.
If the test flight is successful, up to four additional longer flights could follow, all captured by the cameras on Perseverance. In a first for a Mars rover, Perseverance also has microphones, and would record the sounds of the historic flight.
‘We are in uncharted territory, but this team is used to that,’ said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL.
‘Just about every milestone from here through the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each has to succeed for us to go on to the next. We’ll enjoy this good news for the moment, but then we have to get back to work,’ said Aung.
In the days to come, engineers will pore over the rover’s system data, updating its software and beginning to test its various instruments.
In the following weeks, Perseverance will test its robotic arm and take its first, short drive. It will be at least one or two months until Perseverance will find a flat location to drop off Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to the rover’s belly.
Pictured is an illustration showing Perseverance attached to the mechanical bridals as it is being lowered to Mars’ surface by the sky crane. This is the same manuvers that was used when Curiosity landed in 2012
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter also captured also captured the targeted landing spot while hovering above Mars
Perseverance beamed back its first image of the crater moments after NASA established radio contact with the rover (left). The rover beamed a new image back without the camera lens that shows the Martian landscape in full color
On Friday, NASA has new images of the Perseverance rover on Mars, including a shot taken during the ‘seven minutes of terror’ when it endured tumultuous conditions that battered the craft as it entered the Martian atmosphere and approached the surface.
The $2.2.billion rover touched down on the Martian surface Thursday following a 239 million mile journey and scientists say it is ‘doing great and is healthy on the surface, and continues to be highly functional.’
The American space agency shared an image shot by the sky crane that shows Perseverance, nicknamed Perky, slung beneath and attached to mechanical bridals – moments before making landfall.
‘The moment that my team dreamed of for years, now a reality. Dare mighty things,’ the Perseverance team tweeted as it shared the image on Twitter.
The image also captured the dusty and rocky Mars surface below, exciting NASA of what possibilities are ahead of its beloved Perky.
‘This shot from a camera on my ‘jetpack’ captures me in midair, just before my wheels touched down,’ NASA shared in a follow-up tweet.
Minutes after Perseverance began rolling around Mars, it snapped a picture of its wheel surrounded by the dusty landscape using its 20 megapixel color camera.
Adam Steltzner, the chief engineer on the project, said Perseverance is an ‘epic effort’ that represents eight years and ‘over 4000 human years of investment and the latest images shows that the work has paid off.’
NASA MARS 2020: THE MISSION WILL SEE THE PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER SEARH FOR LIFE
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of ancient life on 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