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ScienceNASA helicopter makes history on Mars by becoming the first vehicle to fly on another planetYesterday, Ingenuity lifted off the Martian surface, launching a new era of planetary exploration.By Jay BennettPublished 20 Apr 2021 11:49 CSThe Ingenuity helicopter captured in this image of its shadow as it flew about 10 feet above the Martian surface during its maiden flight.
«A lot of people thought it was impossible to fly on Mars,» says MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). «There is very little air.»
The thin atmosphere on the surface of Mars is equivalent to an altitude of about 30 500 meters on Earth, much higher than most helicopters can fly. The highest-altitude helicopter flight in history took place in 1972, when French aviator Jean Boulet flew at an altitude of 12 442 meters at an air base northwest of Marseille.
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The aircraft rose to an altitude of 5 meters before flying south for approximately 133 meters and then returning, with a round trip of 266 meters. «In total, we were in the air for 117 seconds. This is another set of records for the helicopter, even compared to the spectacular third flight,» he said.Advertisement
«We were also able to capture many images during the flight with the color camera and with Ingenuity’s black-and-white navigation camera, which analyzes surface features as it flies. The images from this navigation camera are normally used by Ingenuity’s flight controller software and then discarded, unless we instruct the helicopter to store them for later use,» said Aung.
Some of these black-and-white images were taken as stereo pairs, which will allow the team to test its ability to make 3D images of the surface and study the elevation of different locations beneath the helicopter. Adding that dimension to future missions may offer a wide range of reconnaissance possibilities in regions that rovers cannot travel, close-ups that orbiting satellites cannot provide, or ways to extend the reach of future human explorers.
The JPL-NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory team controlling the mission from California reported live receipt of data confirming that it had lifted off, hovered and re-landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater.
The solar-powered helicopter lifted off at 12:33 local solar mean time from Mars, ascended to its prescribed maximum altitude of 3 meters, hovered for 30 seconds before descending and touching down again. Total flight time was 39.1 seconds.
The 278 million kilometers separating the two planets make live data impossible – the time lag is about 15 minutes – so Ingenuity received instructions yesterday, but had to manage the flight itself today.
Elevating the flight on Mars is not an easy undertaking. Although the gravity is about one-third of ours, the pressure of the atmosphere on the surface is only 1 % of Earth’s, so its blades had to rotate much faster, 2,537 revolutions per minute.
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Perseverance Descent Stages (illustration): This illustration shows some of the major milestones that NASA’s Perseverance rover will pass through during its seven-minute descent to the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.
NASA’s Perseverance rover’s Mars 2020 mission is just 22 days away from reaching the surface of Mars. The spacecraft has approximately 25.6 million miles (41.2 million kilometers) left on its 292.5 million-mile (470.8 million-kilometer) journey and is currently shaving that distance at 1.6 miles per second (2.5 kilometers per second). Once atop the Red Planet’s atmosphere, seven minutes of action-packed descent await, with temperatures equivalent to the surface of the sun, a supersonic parachute inflation and the first autonomously guided landing on Mars.
Perseverance arrives at Mars on February 18, 2021 (mission trailer): After traveling nearly 470 million kilometers (300 million miles), NASA’s Perseverance rover completes its journey to Mars on February 18, 2021. But, to reach the surface of the Red Planet, it must survive the harrowing final phase known as Entry, Descent and Landing. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech