NASA has revealed a new ‘motion filter’ video of the history-making Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars showing just where the dust travelled around the craft.
While Ingenuity was sent to the Red Planet as a ‘technical demonstration’ with no science mission of its own, NASA says it could help scientists better understand how dust travels through the atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The video, shot by the Mastcam-Z camera on the Perseverance rover, reveals plumes of Martian dust made by Ingenuity upon takeoff and landing.
After the successful flight on Monday April 19, NASA named the airfield that hosted the takeoff the ‘Wright Brothers Field’ in honour of the aeroplane inventors.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) say they will now be pushing the 4lb helicopter ‘to the limit’ in a series of future flights between now and early-May.
While Ingenuity was sent to the Red Planet as a ‘technical demonstration’ with no science mission of its own, NASA says this could help scientists better understand how dust travels through the atmosphere of the Red Planet
WHAT IS MASTCAM-Z USED TO FILM THE INGENUITY FLIGHT
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.
It will help scientists zoom in on rocks to pick out the best routes to send Perseverance in search of signs of ancient life.
It will also help NASA look for signs of ancient lakes, streams and other water sources in Jezero crater.
It can send back about 148mg of data per day and is a 2 megapixel camera producing images 1600px by 1200px.
In the new video, a ghostly ‘cut-out’ of the helicopter is visible, which is an artefact related to the digital processing involved in creating the short clip, says NASA.
The flight, according to NASA, was flawless. It was a gentle take off, with a little push by the wind when it climbed higher altitudes, but was very steady with just the tiniest bounce upon landing.
Having motion filter footage showing the dust around the craft can help NASA as it looks to construct larger and more advanced Mars helicopters in the future.
Along with the epic video, shared side-by-side with the motion capture version, Ingenuity also snapped an image showing the moment before its landing legs touched back down after what is being called a ‘Wright Brothers moment.’
While soaring through the thin atmosphere of Mars, Ingenuity snapped 30 pictures per second to help it monitor its own path, and one image shows the moment before its legs are about to meet the ground.
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 to be ultra-light and rotate its blades extremely fast in order to achieve lift. For this week’s test flight the blades spun to 2,500rpm, allowing it to hover 10 feet off the ground.
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 such as twin-rotored copters such as Chinooks 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.
The 19 inch tall and 4ft diameter wide helicopter completed the first powered, controlled flight on another planet on Monday, and will attempt to complete four more test flights involving further distances and higher altitudes in the next two weeks.
That first historic flight involved the craft firing up its rotors to 2,500 rpm, lifting up to 10ft, hovering for 30 seconds and then landing safely on the surface.
MiMi Aung, the project manager for the rotorcraft, said she expects Ingenuity will ‘meet its limit’ by the final flight test, likely crashing into the Martian surface.
Along with the epic video, Ingenuity also snapped an image showing the moment before its landing legs touched back down after what is being called a ‘Wright Brothers moment’
Ingenuity took off from a 30-by-30ft strip of land on Mars at 3:34amET, but was christened during the briefing that shared updates of the helicopter. It has now been named ‘Wright Brothers Field’
INGENUITY: THE SMALL ROTORCRAFT THAT TOOK TO THE MARTIAN SKY
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 15ft 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.
Aung said she got ‘goose bumps’ while watching footage of the helicopter’s first successful flight, after six years of effort in testing, travel and flight.
‘Ultimately, because going faster, further, our models match what we saw in our flight chamber, but we want to push against the wind, we want to push against the speed, and ultimately we expect the helicopter will meet its limit.
‘This is about finding unknowns that we can’t model, and we really want to know what the limits are, so we will be pushing the limits very deliberately.’
Proving the success of a flying machine on another world will help future NASA engineers prepare for planetary missions with an airborne component.
Mars Helicopter’s chief engineer Bob Balaram said he envisaged a chopper 15 times heavier being able to fly on the planet in the coming years.
Something around 50 pounds, able to carry up to nine pounds of scientific equipment, could be sent to Mars on a future mission, he explained.
‘Early design work on that has started to see what it would take to deploy these and operate them… but anything much larger, the packaging of the blades becomes quite awkward, so it may not be quite feasible in the near-term.’
Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, heralded the flight as ‘the start of a whole new kind of planetary exploration’.
‘It’s the start of a whole new kind of planetary exploration and we’ll build our engineering success to see how we can deploy this capability on future Mars missions,’ he said during a press conference after the flight.
Ingenuity arrived at the Jezero Crater on February 18 after an eight-month journey spanning nearly 300 million miles, tucked inside the belly of Perseverance.
After the spacecraft landed, it dropped the drone on to the ground so Ingenuity could prepare for its maiden flight.
The flight, according to NASA, was flawless. It was a gentle take off, with a little push by the wind when it climbed higher altitudes, but was very steady with just the tiniest bounce upon landing. Pictured is the data confirming Ingenuity’s successful flight
It is armed with two rotors that spin in opposite directions to lift the drone off the ground, with a much lighter body than would be found on an Earth-based vehicle.
As well as the lower gravity, the helicopter faces the challenge of flying in the Martian atmosphere, which is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s.
As it is a technology demonstration, the helicopter does not have any scientific instruments on board.
Ingenuity as seen on Mars on April 7, 2021 in a photo taken by the rover Perseverance. If the 08:30 BST flight is a success then it will become the first powered, controlled flight to take off and land on another planet, giving NASA their own ‘Wright Brothers moment’
It is designed to be mostly autonomous, so NASA will not be able to control the helicopter remotely, relying exclusively on the onboard AI to control flight.
This is because of the distance between Earth and Mars – it takes more than 11 minutes to get a radio signal back to Earth.
It is unlikely future versions will be controllable by humans, unless it is sent to the planet along with the first human mission in 2035.
The technology tested in this Mars copter could allow additional support to survey the terrain for rovers and humans alike in the future, NASA explained.
‘It could also access difficult to access cliffs that cannot be reached by rovers. A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal.’
NASA MARS 2020: THE MISSION WILL SEE THE PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER SEARCH 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