It crossed the crater, took pictures of hard-to-reach areas on the ground, adapted to changes in the atmosphere of Mars, and acted as a surprisingly elastic reconnaissance aircraft overcoming intense sandstorms and frigid nights.
Now, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are worried that the 4-pound solar-powered drone on Mars is nearing its end of life.
Winter is approaching Mars. Dust bounces off and coats Ingenuity’s solar panels, making it impossible to fully charge the six lithium-ion batteries. Ingenuity for the first time since landing on Mars more than a year ago this month Missed a planned communication session With Perseverance, the Mars rover relies on sending data and receiving commands from Earth.
Can dust-covered ingenuity survive the winter on Mars, where temperatures drop below -100 degrees Fahrenheit on a daily basis? If not, how should the world remember a small helicopter that takes $ 80 million to develop and more than five years to design and manufacture? People closest to the project say it’s hard to exaggerate the results as Ingenuity’s time runs out.
“The helicopter far exceeded our initial expectations,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary sciences department, told The Washington Post.
Given the thinness of the atmosphere on Mars, ingenious scientists and engineers were uncertain whether the experiment would be successful at all. Thomas Zurbuchen, Deputy Director of NASA’s Department of Science Missions, Said at that time It was that effort that made NASA find the “right line between crazy and innovation.”
Therefore, when the first flight on April 19, 2021 was successful, NASA foretold it as the Wright brothers for a moment. In honor, Ingenuity had a postage-sized fabric from a brother’s aircraft called a flyer, attached to a cable under a solar panel.
Ingenuity flew to Mars NASA’s latest Mars mission star, Persavia Lans Rover.. After traveling about 300 million miles in seven months, Perseverance Dramatic landing in February 2021 Under a parachute with a secret code that says “Dare Mighty Things”.
An SUV-sized rover landed in the area of Mars, known as the Jezero Crater, which once held water, providing clues to the history of the planet and whether life exists there. Rover is collecting samples of rocks and soil that NASA wants to return to Earth in future missions. Using that 7 instrument Conduct scientific experiments and test new technologies.
Ingenuity was like an add-on, a tech demonstration that proved useful for future missions and allowed space agency scientists to explore more Martian landscapes than could be done on land alone.
However, it will be very difficult to fly an autonomous drone on Mars. Since the atmosphere is only 1% of the Earth’s density, the helicopter’s 4-foot-wide blades need to rotate incredibly fast (2,500 rpm) to generate lift.
“We built it as an experiment,” Glaze said. “Therefore, it did not necessarily include flight-eligible parts for use in large missions like Perseverance.” Some such As a component of a smartphone“It was possible that it wouldn’t work in the environment we expected, so there was a risk that it wouldn’t work,” because even the off-the-shelf one was purchased.
As Ingenuity continued to fly, ground controllers began to realize great results in small projects. Before the fifth flight, they I wrote in a blog post “Our helicopters are even stronger than we expected. The power system we’ve been fretsing on for years keeps the heater running at night and flies during the day. It provides enough energy. Off-the-shelf components for guidance and navigation systems perform as well as rotor systems. You name it, and is it doing well or it? that’s all.”
As it continued to run, NASA scientists became increasingly intrigued by the idea that this helicopter could possibly become an integral part of its mission.
“What happened, and this is really important. After Ingenuity worked very well on the first five flights, the Perseverance science team came to us and said: We will explore and achieve the goals of science, “Greys said.
So NASA decided to continue flying.
On his sixth flight, Ingenuity ran into a problem. The helicopter navigates with a camera that takes 30 pictures per second of the terrain below, each with a time stamp. The algorithm predicts what the camera should see at that particular moment, based on the image taken immediately before. It then calculates the difference between the predicted and actual positions of the ground features and corrects their position, velocity, and altitude.
However, the time stamp was off on this flight. As a result, Ingenuity appeared to be a drunk driver flying, “adjusting speed and leaning back and forth in a vibration pattern.” NASA said on the blog..
Nevertheless, “a considerable effort was made to ensure that the helicopter’s flight control system had sufficient” stability margin “” so that it was able to land safely within 16 feet of the target. In other words, “In a very realistic sense, ingenuity has overcome the situation.”
9 flights in July “Nail Bitter” as NASA wrote.. Not only did the ingenuity break the record of flight time and cruising speed, but it flew over the crater, “an area called” Seita “that is difficult to cross with ground vehicles like the Perseverance Rover.” , NASA writes on the blog.
Ingenuity was designed as an experimental tech demonstration, so engineers designed it to fly over nearly flat terrain, which is easier to navigate with the on-board camera. However, this flight requires ingenuity to immerse in the crater. This required slowing down and fine-tuning the navigation algorithm by the engineer. The flight was successful and Ingenuity was able to beam back color photographs of the area, including locations that it believes “may record some of the deepest water environments in the old Jezero Lake.” “Given the tight mission schedule, Ingenuity may offer the only opportunity to study these sediments in detail, as they may not be able to visit these rocks with Rover. “
Since then, Ingenuity has overcome and overcome obstacles. At some point in September, an engine problem was detected Checking out before flight “And did exactly what it was supposed to do: it canceled the flight.”
About a month later, the problem was resolved and I returned to flight.
In April, he flew over a parachute that slowed down the rover for a landing on Mars, and discovered the ruins of a bullet that protected the rover when it landed on Mars. There was a pair of artificial objects sitting on another planet, and there was an image that “just blew my heart”, Glaze said. So far, NASA has been able to find vehicles on the surface of Mars through spacecraft that orbit far away. However, there was a fragment of high resolution hardware here where the shoot-encoded “Dare-Mighty-Things” could be seen through a thin coating of red Martian dust.
Then, 10 days later, on April 29, the last flight so far, No. 28, was a quarter-mile excursion that lasted two and a half minutes. Now NASA wonders if it will be the last one.
The space agency believes that the helicopter was in a low power state because the helicopter was unable to fully charge the battery. When it went dormant, the helicopter’s in-flight clock was reset to look like a home clock after a power outage. So the next day, when the sun rose and started charging the battery, the helicopter was out of sync with the rover. “In essence, when Ingenuity thought it was time to contact Perseverance, Rover’s base station wasn’t listening,” he wrote.
After that, NASA did something special. The mission controller ordered Perseverance to spend almost all of May 5 listening to the helicopter.
Finally, a little ingenuity called home.
According to NASA, the radio link was “stable”, the helicopter was healthy and the battery was charged at 41%.
But as NASA warned, “One radio session doesn’t mean that the ingenuity is out of the woods. The increase in dust (reducing light) in the air is the helicopter’s battery. It means charging to a level where important components (such as watches and heaters) remain energized at night. This is a serious challenge. “
Maybe ingenuity will fly again. It may not be.
“At this point, we don’t know what will happen next,” Grays said. “We are still trying to find a way to fly it again, but patience is our primary mission, so we need to start setting expectations properly.”