NASA Mars Ingenuity helicopter broke its own record

NASA Mars Ingenuity helicopter broke its own record

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More than a year and a half after its first flight on Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter has set a new record.

The small 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter completed its 35th flight on Dec. 3, setting a new altitude record of 46 feet (14 meters).

The air excursion lasted 52 seconds and took the helicopter a distance of about 50 feet to reposition it. This was Ingenuity’s first substantial outing since an 18-second hop-and-hover maneuver on November 22 to test the helicopter after receiving a major software upgrade that could extend the life of the helicopter.

The software helps Ingenuity avoid landing hazards on the rocky surface of Mars by generating digital elevation maps as it navigates on future flights.

Ingenuity was initially designed as a technology demonstrator that would perform just five flights on Mars after a lift to the red planet with the Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the Martian landscape since February 2021.

Instead, the helicopter has proven itself time and time again, becoming the rover’s aerial reconnaissance, flying over areas deemed too dangerous for the rover and investigating possible future destinations.

This expanded role has also seen Ingenuity fly over and land in much more challenging terrain than her team ever anticipated. Now that the team has had time to assess how Ingenuity is adapting to the upgrades, the small helicopter is ready to take off again for regular flights.

Next, Ingenuity will soar up the steep terrain of the ancient river delta, where water once poured into the Jezero crater more than 3 billion years ago.

Ingenuity’s surprising journey has also paved the way for future aerial reconnaissance vehicles.

“The success of Ingenuity has led to NASA’s decision to include two Ingenuity-class helicopters on the Mars Sample Retrieval Lander planned for later this decade,” Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer emeritus, wrote in a statement. NASA blog update.

“These sample recovery helicopters, with wheels instead of feet, and a small manipulator arm with a two-finger gripper, will, if necessary, return precious sample tubes from a sample cache depot to the Mars ascent vehicle for launch back to Earth. A more capable Mars Science Helicopter with the ability to carry nearly 5 kg of science payloads is also in early conceptual and design stages.

Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover continues to collect intriguing samples from Mars. On December 2 and 6, the robot explorer collected its first two samples of regolith, or windblown sand and dust, from a small dune.

“There are so many different materials mixed in Martian regolith,” astrobiologist Libby Hausrath, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Mars sample return scientist, said in a statement. “Each sample represents an integrated history of the planet’s surface.”

Perseverance will drop some of its samples at a designated flat depot later this month. The cache will be collected by future missions during the Mars Sample Return campaign and returned to Earth in the 2030s.

The Perseverance rover recently used a special drill to collect its first samples of crushed rock and dust.

Broken rock and dust could reveal more information about the environment and geological history of Mars, but it could also shed light on how that dust affects solar panels, spacesuits and other items needed for manned missions to the red planet.

When the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, it was discovered that lunar regolite was sharp enough to tear small holes in their spacesuits.

Scientists know that the surface of Mars contains a toxic chemical called perchlorate, which if inhaled could pose a threat to future explorers.

“If we have a more permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how the dust and regolith will interact with our spacecraft and habitats,” said Erin Gibbons, a doctoral student in earth and planetary sciences at McGill University in Montreal and a member of the Perseverance. robber. science team, in a statement.

“Some of those dust particles can be as fine as cigarette smoke and can get into an astronaut’s breathing apparatus. We want a more complete picture of which materials are harmful to our explorers, be they humans or robots.”

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