The helicopter sent to Mars by NASA to explore the Red Planet from the sky has ‘phoned home’ and is working great, according to the space agency.
Named Ingenuity, it rode to Mars strapped to the belly of the car-sized Perseverance rover that will trundle along the Jezero crater in search of ancient alien life.
NASA mission control in Southern California received the first status report from Ingenuity late on Friday via the space-based Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Ingenuity will remain attached the belly of Perseverance for between 30 and 60 days before it detaches and makes its maiden flight – assuming it survives the brutal average -90C overnight temperatures found on the Red Planet.
The first act of Perseverance — which has been based on the blueprint of Curiosity and is the seven feet tall, nine feet wide and weighs 2,260 pounds — will be to release its accompanying Ingenuity helicopter (pictured in an artist impression) within the next 60 days
NASA shared an exciting image shot by the sky crane that shows Perseverance, nicknamed Perky, slung beneath and attached to mechanical bridals – moments before making landfall. NASA believes this image will become an iconic picture of spaceflight history
The downlink confirmed that the helicopter, and an electrical box on the rover that routes and stores communications with Earth, were both performing as expected.
‘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,’ explained Tim Canham, Ingenuity project lead at JPL.
The base station works to command heaters to turn off and on and to keep the helicopter’s electronics working within an expected range, he added.
A full scale model of the experimental Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which was carried under the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and could make its first flight in a month
‘Both appear to be working great. With this positive report, we will move forward with tomorrow’s charge of the helicopter’s batteries.’
Once the batteries have been charged by Perseverance and mission control are happy it is working as expected, the little craft will be released.
NASA will then work to ensure the helicopter is able to charge its batteries through its onboard solar panels and that it can survive the hard freezing Martian nights.
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 colour
Ensuring that Ingenuity has plenty of stored energy aboard to maintain heating and other vital functions while also maintaining optimal battery health is essential to the success of the Mars Helicopter, the space agency explained.
Initially Perseverance will give Ingenuity a ‘one-hour power-up’ that will boost the rotorcraft’s batteries to about 30% of its total capacity.
A few days after that, they’ll be charged again to reach 35%, with future charging sessions planned weekly while the helicopter is attached to the rover.
Now NASA knows the rover and helicopter can ‘phone home’ they’ll compare charging data on Mars to data from charging while travelling to the planet.
Perseverance’s primary goal is to look for ‘biosignatures’ — signs of past or present microbial life — as well as gathering rock samples which will be picked up by another mission in 2026. However, it is equipped with a host of tools which will perform a variety of tasks
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter preps for its ‘Wright brothers moment’
NASA is set to fly where no one has flown before – Mars’ atmosphere.
Named Ingenuity, the craft will fly at an altitude that is similar to 100,000 feet on Earth, allowing it to gather geology data in areas the rover can’t reach.
NASA is comparing this mission ‘to the Wright brothers moment,’ as it will be the first time in history an aerial vehicle has flown on another world.
It will first spend up to 60 days charging strapped to the Perseverance rover, before being released.
If it survives the hard -90C Martian night, NASA will make the first flight attempt within 30 days.
‘Since the Wright brothers first took to the skies of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, December 17, 1903, first flights have been important milestones in the life of any vehicle designed for air travel,’ NASA said in a statement
After Perseverance deploys Ingenuity to the surface, the helicopter will then have a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight test window.
If Ingenuity survives its first bone-chilling Martian nights – where temperatures dip as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius – the team will proceed with the first flight of an aircraft on another world.
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 rotorcraft lands successfully and remains operable, up to four more flights could be attempted, each one building on the success of the last.
‘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.’
Assuming Ingenuity is succesful, future Mars missions are likely to include an aerial component in the form of a rotorcraft – descendants of Ingenuity.
‘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 explained.
NASA’s $2.2 billion Perseverance rover and accompanying helicopter successfully landed on Mars on February 18 following a 239 million-mile journey.
The rover survived the ‘seven minutes of terror’ when it endured tumultuous conditions that battered the craft as it entered the Martian atmosphere and approached the surface.
After landing, two of the Hazard Cameras (Hazcams) captured views from the front and rear of the rover, showing one of its wheels in the Martian dirt
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance orbiter also captured amazing images of Perseverance, showing it attached to the sonic parachute moments after shooting through the Martian atmosphere like a comet
Perseverance touched down at the base of an 820ft-deep (250m) crater called Jezero, a former lake which was home to water 3.5 billion years ago.
The Martian surface is littered with craters but what makes Jezero Crater so special is that it has an inflow and outflow channel, which suggests it was filled with water some 3.5 billion years ago.
New data, photos, videos and audio is being sent back to Earth by Perseverance all the time, with NASA set to reveal more at 19:00 GMT on February 22, 2021.
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
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