Science

The Mars helicopter engine aborted the last flight attempt due to an anomaly

NASA’s Mars helicopter engine did not take off as planned earlier this month.

Ingenuity was scheduled to make its 14th outing to the Red Planet on September 18, a relatively short and simple jump that would have demonstrated the small helicopter’s ability to fly at slightly higher rotor speeds – 2,700 revolutions per minute (RPM) rather than the usual 2,537 RPM. .

The mission team is making this adjustment to deal with the Martian atmosphere, which is thinning slightly as the seasons change on the floor of the Red Planet’s Jezero crater, wrote Jaakko Karras, deputy director of operations for Ingenuity at the Laboratory of NASA Jet Propulsion in Southern California. in an update on Tuesday (September 28).

Related: Watch NASA’s Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Explore Intriguing Towering Ridge

Ingenuity ran a high-speed rotation test on September 15, spinning its blades at 2,800 RPM during a spell while lying on the ground. Everything went well, paving the way for the flight on September 18. But the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter didn’t end up taking off that day.

“This is what happened: Ingenuity detected an anomaly in two of the small flight control servo motors (or just ‘servos’) during its automatic preflight check and did exactly what it was supposed to do: canceled the flight.” , Karras wrote.

Ingenuity has six servos, three for each of its two rotors. The small motors adjust the pitch of the rotors, allowing the helicopter to control its orientation and position during flight.

“Servo motors are much smaller than the motors that turn the rotors, but they do an enormous amount of work and are critical to stable and controlled flight,” wrote Karras.

Analysis of the September 18 pre-flight test has shown that two of Ingenuity’s servos oscillated slightly during the “servo motion” check. The team is still trying to determine the cause, but it may be due to increased wear on the gearboxes and servo links, Karras wrote. (The ingenuity is a technology demonstrator that was originally supposed to only make five flights on the Red Planet.)

However, the device passed two additional servo motion tests on September 21 and 23, “so the problem is not completely repeatable,” wrote Karras. “We have a number of tools available to work with the anomaly, and we are optimistic that we will overcome it and fly again soon.”

But the orbital dynamics will keep Ingenuity grounded for at least another couple of weeks. Mars is now in “solar conjunction”, which means it is on the other side of the sun from Earth. Our star can corrupt and interfere with communications sent between the two planets, so NASA has stopped sending commands to Ingenuity and its other Red Planet robots, including Ingenuity’s much larger partner, the Perseverance rover, until mid October, when Mars will arrive more. clearly in view.

“However, the device will not be completely idle during this time; the device and perseverance will be set up to keep each other company by communicating approximately once a week, and the device will send basic information about the health of the system to its base station. in perseverance, “wrote Karras. “We will receive this data on Earth once we exit the conjunction, and we will learn how Ingenuity works during an extended period of relative inactivity on Mars. See you on the other side of the conjunction!”

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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