‘It’s thrilling, exciting and terrifying’: NASA prepares for first helicopter flight on Mars

Resourcefulness rode to Mars nestled under the stubborn belly of the Determination rover, which arrived at the Red World in February. The helicopter, which will just work for 31 days and can fly for 90 seconds max, is planned to show that flight is possible on another world, which might unlock for uncrewed airplane to see parts of the world rovers can’t access or serve as scouts for astronauts on future objectives.

Resourcefulness will be flying in an environment that’s simply one percent as thick as Earth’s environment. That implies that while the helicopter will be simply 10 feet off the ground, it’s as if it was flying at 100,000 feet in the world. For contrast, many industrial airplanes fly in between 30,000 and 40,000 feet.

“It turns out, if you take a small dual-rotor counter rotating helicopter that weighs about four pounds and you make those carbon fiber blades fatter and spin them five-times faster than an Earth helicopter, you can get enough lift” to fly on Mars, Hogg stated.

Hogg, who has actually operated at NASA given that 1997, discussed how his group is getting ready for the historical flight and how the concept for a flying drone on another world goes back to the 1990s.

This records has actually been modified for length and clearness.

What’s your function in the Determination objective?

I’ve been dealing with the Mars 2020 task given that 2012. Today I’m the deputy surface area objective supervisor for Mars 2020.

We prepare what the rover is doing the following Martian sol [a day on Mars.] I’m the deputy running that group, so … we are running the objective. … It takes an army of individuals to pull that off in a manner that it’s safe so we don’t lose our billion dollar property however likewise in an efficient method to get all the science done.

How is the group prepping for Resourcefulness’s very first flight?

On Saturday, we effectively finished an entire series of actions to release Resourcefulness to the Martian surface area. We invested 10 days on Mars doing that, which might look like a long time, however a great deal of essential things require to occur.

After it’s been packaged up and securely connected to the bottom of the rover, it’s 150 million miles away. It made it all the method to Mars, made it through launch, entry, descent and landing. We don’t wish to fumble at the 99-yard line.

Over the recently approximately … we completed examining the flight zone with the rover’s electronic cameras, we dropped off the particles guard outside the flight zone, then we drove to one end of the flight zone to start implementation of Resourcefulness to the surface area. We went through a number of actions to do that. We decreased it on an arm with a little motor, powered it to vertical position, and completed releasing the legs. … Then we invested an additional day or more making certain there sufficed clearance for the rover to repel. … We required to get the rover off and away so sunshine might strike Resourcefulness’s solar batteries within a day. It was important to make that occur so Resourcefulness might charge up its batteries and have sufficient energy to make it through the Martian night.

Exists an electronic camera on Resourcefulness to get aerial shots of Mars?

Yes. There are 2. One is a black and white lower resolution navigation video camera that catches images at a high rate and utilizes computer system vision to determine where the helicopter is. The 2nd color video camera resembles what you’d have on your phone for getting some color images too.

Where did this concept originated from?

What started this entire thing is the truth that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory landed the very first rover on Mars in the 1990s. … We landed this microwave-sized rover and it was the very first time we roamed on another world. … There was conversation in different corners of JPL about what about a flying maker? … In 2013, they had a flying maker research study laboratory. Our then-director at JPL Charles Elachi had actually gone to a conference and returned to JPL questioning if we might do a flying maker. He explored the drone laboratory at JPL and stated let’s created a proposition for Mars 2020. The due date was just 2 months away. Bob Balaram [the chief Ingenuity engineer] and his group worked overtime and got a proposition in.

What makes flight so challenging on Mars?

It’s flying in such a thin environment. However likewise, if you take an action back, we’re doing something on another world that has a one method light time of 15 minutes. That means if I bought a remote control car and got it to the Martian surface alive and well, and hit go on the joystick, it would be 15 minutes before it started moving and another 15 minutes before I knew it was moving. … So you need an autonomous capability.

This is the next level of achievement I’m describing, being able to fly something in 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere on the surface of another world that’s 150 million miles away. These are mind boggling engineering achievements we’re dealing with here. … It turns out, if you take a small dual-rotor counter rotating helicopter that weighs about four pounds and you make those carbon fiber blades fatter and spin them five times faster than an Earth helicopter, you can get enough lift to lift a very lightweight package.

So with the lag, it will fly and land prior to you even know it?

The flights are approximately 90 seconds on average. We send instructions for the day to the rover. The rover passes on instructions for the helicopter to a base station … over a radio connection after Ingenuity wakes up and gets in communication with the rover. … So sometime on Mars, … it will carry out those instructions for its first flight.

The results of that flight get sent during the flight to the base station, then relayed to the rover. Then the rover waits for a Mars orbiter to pass overhead and minutes or hours later, it relays everything that happened to the deep space network here on Earth [which takes 15 minutes.] Then we get the story of what happened on Mars and we unpack it all. Hopefully we will be celebrating.

All those steps happen with humans just waiting on Earth to see how it all plays out.

I can’t imagine how stressful that is.

I’m remembering Saturday afternoon. … We determined that the helicopter had dropped and it had turned on for the first time, so we understood it lived. Then we permitted the rover to repel. We were waiting on an hour and a half to see how the drive went and if we effectively revealed helo to beat the 25-hour due date [after which Ingenuity would not have enough battery charge to survive a night on Mars.] … There are minutes where it seems like a week of your life is passing waiting to see if something is occurring that you invested 7 years engineering. It’s thrilling, interesting and scary. This is why we do what we do.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.