Yesterday, April 19, NASA’s little helicopter became the first motorized craft to rise into the air from another planet! Ingenuity took off at a height of about three meters, then hovered for about thirty seconds in the air before descending to the ground. NASA now offers a 720p video of this feat, seemingly innocuous but oh so technical.
Due to various technical problems, this first test flight was postponed by almost a week. Flying a craft in the relatively hostile and very sparse atmosphere of Mars is a real technological feat, which NASA engineers have accomplished brilliantly.
The first images of the flight, captured by the Perseverance rover parked a few meters away, were broadcast quickly after the event. But NASA is now offering us a better quality video, allowing us to appreciate all the details of the feat.
A dream come true
The recently released images were captured by Mastcam-Z cameras from the Perseverance rover, which stood a few dozen meters from the site. ” Today I have witnessed history. Now you are too », Can we read on the rover’s official Twitter account. On these images, we clearly see the small craft take off at three meters, rotate on itself 90 °, stay a few seconds in the air, then land without problem on Martian soil:
The small solar-powered helicopter took off for the first time at 3:34 a.m. EDT – or 12:33 p.m. local mean solar time (March time) – the time the Ingenuity team determined that the energy and flight conditions were optimal. Altimeter data indicates that the aircraft reached its prescribed maximum altitude of 3 meters and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended to the ground, having recorded a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.
The gravity of Mars, much lower than that of the Earth, as well as its extremely thin atmosphere (only 1% of pressure on the surface compared to our planet), made the operation extremely complicated; it is indeed by “pushing” the surrounding air that the propellers can lift the aircraft. But Ingenuity, both ultra light and powerful, was designed to be able to fly in this particular environment: its 1.2 meter long blades spin much faster than a standard helicopter.
” Today, 117 years after the Wright Brothers successfully completed the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has managed to achieve this incredible feat on another world. Said Thomas Zurbuchen, astrophysicist and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Missions Directorate. In tribute to the two aviation pioneers, this first Martian aerodrome will henceforth be known under the name of Wright brothers field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration. ” These two emblematic moments in the history of aviation […] will now be linked forever Zurbuchen emphasizes.
A new perspective on Mars exploration
Under the hood of the device: an “old” smartphone processor (a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip clamped to 500 Hz), a Linux kernel and open source software, to which nearly 12,000 developers have contributed. The software part is indeed based on the F ‘framework, available on GitHub for several years. During this time, thousands of developers improved it, fixed bugs, unknowingly participating in a future major project. As recognition, a small virtual badge “ March 2020 Helicopter Mission Will be assigned to the GitHub profile of the affected developers.
After this incredible feat, which marks the culmination of many years of work, the team of Jet Propulsion Laboratory is now ready to push the limits with “increasingly difficult” flights. ” We will continually push to the limit of this rotorcraft », Promised MiMi Aung, head of the Ingenuity project at JPL. Like Orville and Wilbur Wright, engineers will try to learn as much as possible about the capabilities of their aircraft.
Deployed on the surface of Jezero crater on April 3, Ingenuity is currently on the 16th ground (Martian day), of his mission which has 30 (or 31 days on Earth). Over the next three soils, the team will receive and analyze all of the test data and images (collected by the Mastcam-Z system and the rover’s Navcams), which will allow them to develop a plan for the second. experimental test flight, scheduled for April 22 at the earliest. If the helicopter survives this second test, the team will consider how best to broaden the flight profile, further and further away and at a higher altitude. Five test flights are planned in total; they will end at the beginning of May, so that Perseverance can continue its mission, namely to collect samples of Martian rocks likely to contain traces of ancient life.