She traversed craters, captured images of hard-to-reach areas on Earth, and was a surprisingly flexible explorer who adapted to the changing atmosphere of Mars and survived harsh dust storms and cold nights.
Now, engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are concerned that their four-pound solar-powered drone on Mars may be nearing the end of its life.
Winter on Mars. Dust rises, covering Ingenuity’s solar panels and preventing them from fully charging the six lithium-ion batteries. This month, for the first time since landing on Mars over a year ago, ingenuity Missed a planned communication session With perseverance, the Mars rover you rely on sends data and receives commands from Earth.
Will dust-covered creativity survive a Martian winter where temperatures routinely drop below -100 degrees Fahrenheit? And if not, how does the world remember the small helicopter that cost $80 million to develop and more than five years to design and build? Those close to the project say that as the time approaches creativity, it is difficult to overestimate his achievements.
“The helicopter far exceeded those initial expectations,” Laurie Glaese, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told The Washington Post.
Given the thinness of Mars’ atmosphere, the scientists and engineers who worked on the creation were not at all sure that the experiment would work. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, He said at that time It was an attempt that forced NASA to find “the right line between madness and innovation.”
So when the first flight on April 19, 2021 was successful, NASA heralded it as the Wright Brothers Nowadays. As an estimate, Ingenuity had a postage-stamp-sized piece of cloth from the brothers’ plane, known as the Flyer, attached to a cable under the solar panel.
Creativity traveled to Mars tied to the bottom of Perseverance rover, star of NASA’s latest Mars mission. After traveling 300 million miles over seven months, Perseverance landed in a Dramatic drop in February 2021 Under an umbrella with a secret code snuck inside it read, “Dare Mighty Things.”
The rover, about the size of an SUV, has landed in a region of Mars known as Jezero Crater, which once held water and could provide clues to the planet’s history and whether life existed there. The rover is collecting rock and soil samples that NASA hopes to bring back to Earth on a future mission as well. Using her seven tools To conduct scientific experiments and test new technologies.
The creativity was something of an add-on, a technical demonstration that could be useful for future missions and allow space agency scientists to explore more Martian landscapes than they could on Earth alone.
But flying a self-driving drone on Mars would be very difficult. The density of the atmosphere is only 1 percent that of the Earth, so to generate lift the helicopter’s four-foot-wide blades must spin at an astonishing speed – 2,500 revolutions per minute.
“We built it as an experiment,” Gilles said. “So it didn’t necessarily have the flight-qualifying parts that we use on big missions like perseverance.” some like As components of smart phoneswere bought off the shelves, so “there were chances that they wouldn’t perform in the environment as we expected. And so there was a risk that it wouldn’t work.”
As creativity continues, the controllers on the ground are beginning to realize that their small project can accomplish big things. Before her fifth flight, hmm wrote in a blog post that “Our helicopter is more powerful than we hoped. The power system we’ve been worried about for years provides more than enough power to keep our heaters running at night and flying during the day. The off-the-shelf components of our guidance and navigation systems work great, and so does our rotor system. You name it. And it works as well or better.”
As it continues to perform, scientists at NASA are increasingly fascinated by the idea that this helicopter could become an integral part of the mission.
“What happened was, and that’s really key, after the Ingenuity was doing really well on those first five flights, the science team from Perseverance came up to us and said, ‘You know, we want this helicopter to keep working to help us with exploration and our science goals.
So NASA decided to continue flying.
On its sixth voyage, creativity 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 photos taken moments before. It then calculates the difference between the expected location and the actual location of the land properties to correct for its position, velocity and altitude.
But on this trip, the timestamps were off. As a result, the creation looked as if it was being driven by a drunk driver, “adjusting his speed and leaning back and forth in a wobbly pattern,” NASA said on the blog.
However, it was able to land safely within 16 feet of its target due to “the great effort it took to ensure the helicopter’s flight control system had a ‘large margin of stability’,” NASA wrote. In other words: “In a very real sense, creativity permeated the situation.” .”
Flight 9, in July, was also a “Nail biting,” NASA wrote. Not only because Ingenuity broke records in flight duration and flight speed, but because it flew over a volcano’s crater, “an area called ‘Séítah’ would be difficult to traverse with a land vehicle like the Perseverance rover,” NASA wrote in its blog.
Because the Ingenuity was designed as a tech demo, engineers designed it to fly over largely flat terrain, and can be navigated more easily with the onboard camera. But for this trip, creativity will have to plunge into the crater of the volcano. This required him to reduce his speed and for engineers to modify his navigation algorithm. The trip was a success, and Ingenuity was able to retransmit color images of the area, including a site that some believe “may record some of the deepest water environments in ancient Lake Jezero,” NASA wrote. “Due to the tight schedule of tasks, it is likely that they will not be able to visit these rocks by rover, so Ingenuity may present the only opportunity to study these deposits in any detail.”
Since then, creativity has continued, overcoming hurdle after hurdle. Sometime in September, he found out there was a problem with the engine While out of preflight “And she did exactly what she was supposed to do: She canceled the flight.”
About a month later, the issue was resolved and I’m back on the ride.
In April, he made another discovery — the parachute flyover that slowed the probe into its descent on Mars, and spotted the debris of the shell that had been protecting the rover as it descended toward the surface of Mars. There was a pair of man-made objects sitting on another planet, the images “just astounded me,” Gleese said. In the past, NASA was able to observe vehicles on the surface of Mars with spacecraft orbiting in distant orbits. But here there were pieces of instrumentation, close up, at such high resolution that the “strong stuff” encoded in the chute was visible through a thin layer of red Martian dust.
Then, 10 days later, on April 29, she took her last flight to date, #28, a short two-and-a-half-minute quarter-mile flight. Now NASA is wondering if this will be the last.
The space agency believes that the helicopter’s inability to fully charge its batteries caused the helicopter to enter a low-power state. As she fell asleep, the helicopter’s onboard clock was reset, the way home clocks work after a power outage. So the next day, when the sun came up and started charging the batteries, the helicopter was out of sync with the rover: “Essentially, when Ingenuity thought it was time to call Perseverance, the rover’s base station wasn’t listening,” NASA wrote.
Then NASA did something unusual: persevering mission controllers were ordered to spend about May 5 listening to the helicopter.
Finally, a little creativity called home.
NASA said the radio link was “stable,” the helicopter was in good shape, and the battery was 41 percent charged.
But, as NASA cautioned, “a radio communications session doesn’t mean creativity is out of the woods. Boosting (photosynthetic) dust in the air means charging the helicopter’s batteries to a level that allows important components (such as the clock and heaters) to stay active all night is quite challenging.” .
Perhaps creativity will fly again. Maybe not.
“At this point, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next,” Gilles said. “We are still working on trying to find a way to fly it again. But perseverance is the main task, so we need to start setting our expectations appropriately.”
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