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Six months later, on Mars, NASA's little helicopter is still flying high

Six months later, on Mars, NASA’s little helicopter is still flying high

The small helicopter has become the rover’s usual travel companion.

Washington, United States:

He only had to fly five times. However, NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has completed 12 flights and is not ready for retirement.

Because of its sudden and unexpected success, the US space agency extended the creativity mission indefinitely.

The small helicopter has become a regular traveling companion for the persistent rover, whose main task is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars.

“Everything is going well,” said Josh Ravich, head of the mechanical engineering team at Ingenuity. “We are on the surface better than we expected.”

Hundreds of people have contributed to the project, although only about a dozen people currently perform day-to-day jobs.

Raveesh joined the team five years ago.

“When I had the opportunity to work on the helicopter project, I think I got the same reaction as everyone else: ‘Is it possible? “

His initial suspicions were understandable: the density of the air on Mars is only 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere. By comparison, flying a helicopter on Mars is like flying 20 miles (30 kilometers) above Earth.

And it wasn’t easy to get to Mars in the first place. Creativity had to withstand the initial shock of takeoff from Earth and landing on February 18 on the Red Planet after a seven-month journey through space, strapped into the probe’s belly.

Once in its new environment, the tiny helicopter (four pounds or 1.8 kg) had to survive the icy cold of Mars nights, extracting heat from the solar panels that charge its batteries during the day. Its flights are routed through a series of sensors, as a 15-minute delay in ground communications makes real-time routing impossible.

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Scout duties

On April 19, Ingenuity made its maiden flight, making history the first robotic vehicle to fly on another planet.

Exceeding all expectations, he flew 11 again.

“We were really able to withstand stronger winds than we expected,” Ravic told AFP.

said Ravich, who works at NASA’s famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which developed the helicopter.

Since then, Ingenuity has flown 12 meters (39 ft) and its final flight took 2 minutes and 49 seconds. In total, he covered a distance of 2.5 kilometers.

In May, Ingenuity made its first single mission, landing outside the relatively flat “airport” that had been carefully chosen as its first home.

But not everything went well. His sixth flight brought some excitement.

After suffering a serious loss of balance due to a malfunction that affected images taken in flight to help her stabilize, the small ship was able to recover. You have arrived at a safe and sound place and the problem has been resolved.

Creativity is now sent out to explore the path to perseverance with the high-resolution color camera.

The goal is twofold: to follow a safe rover path, but it is also of scientific interest, especially from a geological point of view.

Ken Farley, who heads the science team at Perseverance, explained how images taken by Ingenuity during its 12th voyage showed that the area called South Seitha was less interested than scientists expected.

As a result, the rover may not be dispatched there.

favorable conditions

After more than six months on the Red Planet, the tiny, drone-like spacecraft has gained a growing following on Earth, appearing in coffee cups and T-shirts sold online.

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What explains longevity?

“The environment has cooperated a lot so far: the temperatures, the wind, the sun, the dust in the air… It’s still very cold, but it could have been a lot worse,” Ravik said.

In theory, the helicopter should be able to continue operating for much longer. But the approaching Martian winter will be difficult.

NASA engineers, now armed with data from the Ingenuity flights, are already working on the next generation of their successors.

“Something in the 20 to 30 kilogram range is likely to be able to carry scientific payloads,” Ravik said.

These future payloads may include persistently collected rock samples.

NASA plans to retrieve these samples during a future mission – sometime in the 2030s.

(This story has not been edited by the NDTV team and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)