For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – The NASA science and engineering team leading the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter are targeting a history making ‘Wright Brothers’ first flight moment for the agencies experimental craft on Mars for no earlier than April 8 – aiming to make the first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.
Meanwhile the irreversible deployment process to get the Ingenuity rotocraft safely unfurled and down onto the Martian surface from its attach point on the belly of NASA’s SUV-sized Perseverance rover has just begun today on Sol 37, March 28, after arrival of the robot at the ‘airfield’ from which it will take flight as soon as next month – and as now can be clearly seen in the new Sol 37 mosaic (see above) I just stitched from eight color raw images taken today by the powerful Sherloc Watson high resolution camera located on the robots turret, or hand, and pointed back to the vehicles belly, and sent back to Earth today.
In fact the eerie alien view in my Sol 37 mosaic looks like the ‘Birth of a Martian Helicopter Robot’ – and its absolutely mesmerizing to look at and think about the future possibilities of flights on Mars by both robots and human explorers!
“Before the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft can attempt its first flight, however, both it and its team must meet a series of daunting milestones,” NASA and team officials announced at a media briefing held March 23.
Those ‘daunting milestones’ have now at last begun on Sol 37 with release of the locking mechanism at the belly attach point on the belly of NASA’s Perseverance – that begins the irreversible start to the deployment with the spring-loaded unfurlment of the four landing legs.
The steps to begin the Ingenuity deployment began last week on Sol 30 (March 21, 2021) after Perseverance was commanded to eject the guitar case-shaped graphite composite debris shield cover that protected Ingenuity during landing and was dropped flat onto the Martian surface directly underneath her and between the six wheels.
See my Sol 30 mosaic below illustrating the scene with the 1st look at NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter unveiled and folded up and attached to the belly of the rover.
The dramatic Sol 30 mosaic shows Ingenuity still stowed and all folded up on the underbelly of Perseverance with the dropped debris shield lying flat on the floor of the Jezero Crater landing site and in between the six wheels with wheel tracks and rocks behind in this expansive view out to the crater wall.
Dropping the debris shield was the first step to getting Ingenuity unfolded and dropped onto Mars in an audacious attempt to carry out the first ever powered flight on a world beyond Earth.
The debris shield was critical for protecting Ingenuity during the scorching heats and stresses of the ‘7 minutes of Terror’ culminating in the safe and sound soft touchdown of NASA’s Perseverance rover just over a month ago on Feb. 18 after a 7 month interplanetary journey from Earth.
“As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before,” said Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover.
“Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn’t going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea what is going on.”
The team said the helicopter deployment process will take about six sols or Martian days to complete if everything proceed nominally.
Since it started today March 28 it should roughly last through most of this week.
After dropping the debris shield the rover was then tasked with driving a short distance to the “airfield” the team identified as a safe spot from which Ingenuity will attempt to fly.
“I’m on my way to the “airfield” where the #MarsHelicopter will attempt its first test flight. A couple more drives should get me there,” Perseverance tweeted.
I’m on my way to the “airfield” where the #MarsHelicopter will attempt its first test flight. A couple more drives should get me there.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 23, 2021
On Sol 31, March 22, Perseverance took a beautiful look back view showing both the dropped helicopter debris shield and the sample caching system protective covers lying flat side by side on the Red Planet surface – which I stitched into a mosaic.
See my Sol 31 mosaic below showing both covers. The mosaic was stitched from navcam color raw images.
Once deployed, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days, or sols, (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flight campaign of up to five test flights.
“When NASA’s Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.
“Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.”
Overall the flight test campaign in April is currently planned to start more than a month sooner than the team was initially targeting since they found the ‘airfield’ sooner than expected.
After a pictorial search with the high resolution mast mounted cameras the science and engineering team located a ‘helipad’ which they commanded Perseverance to travel to and deploy Ingenuity onto for the history making test flight campaign in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars that is less than 1% as dense as Earths.
But the challenge is great because Mars still has significant gravity about 1/3 of Earth with little atmospheric density for lifting.
The airfield is about 10 meters x 10 meters (33 feet x 33-feet) in size and chosen as prime real estate for the test flight because it is smooth, flat and relatively free of obstructions like rocks which could interfere with a safe landing on the four legs
After completing the planned six sol deployment and unfolding and dropping Ingenuity the last 5 inches (19 cm) to Mars surface, Perseverance will drive away to a distance of about 16 feet (5 meters) and confirm that the helicopter is standing upright on 4 legs on Jezero crater floor and that both helicopter and rover are communicating via their onboard radios.
This milestone also initiates the 30-sol clock during which time all preflight checks and flight tests must take place, says the team.
The first flight targeted for NET April 8 will be the most important since it will be the first demonstration of powered flight on another world – if all goes well.
“The first flight is special. It’s by far the most important flight that we plan to do,” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity chief pilot at the media briefing. “It will be the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.”
During the first test flight Ingenuity will rev up its rotors to 2,537 rpm. If all checks out well it will climb at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second) to about 3 meters (10 feet) above the surface and hover in place for about 30 seconds while turning
Then Ingenuity will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface on its four landing legs.
Four more tests of increasing complexity will follow depending on the results and analysis by the team.
NASA and the JPL team running the mission are limiting Ingenuity to only a 30 sol mission because the rover needs to move on from this technology demonstration experiment to its primary science task of astrobiology aimed at searching for signs of ancient alien microbial life and gathering soil and rock samples at Jezero crater for eventual return to Earth in a decade or so.
Watch this NASA JPL trailer illustrating the Ingenuity mission:
Video caption: NASA’s Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity arrived at the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Its mission: to demonstrate the first powered flight on another world.
These new images and mosaics mark the first time in history a Martian Helicopter has been unveiled on the surface of the Red Planet providing humanity’s very first glimpse of NASA’s delightfully diminutive and cute craft – the experimental Ingenuity rotocraft attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover after the protective debris shield was dropped away.
Ingenuity is the first Helicopter to ride to Mars and the first to be touched by Martian air.
The Sherloc Watson camera is located on the robotic arm hand, or turret seen in my Sol 17 mosaic below.
The solar powered Ingenuity helicopter is a technology demonstration experiment aimed at attempting the first flight on Mars.
It is stowed on the belly and receives its charge from the rover’s power supply.
The four legged Ingenuity has a mass of about 4.0 pounds (1.8 kilograms) and stands 1.6 feet or 19 inches (0.49 meters) high. It is equipped with two counter rotating blades for lift spinning at about 2,400 rpm and two cameras.
After Ingenuity is deployed on Mars’ surface its batteries will be charged solely by the helicopter’s own solar panel. If Ingenuity survives the cold Martian nights during its preflight checkout, the team will proceed with testing.
My Sol 15 Perseverance rover shadow selfie mosaic was also featured at the Space.com space news website – here.
Watch our live and complete ‘Stay Curious’ with live Perseverance landing commentary Feb 18, 2021 as well as March 22 mission update and earlier programs on Mars Mania on Feb 12.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, Artemis and NASA missions, SpaceX, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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Ken has created hundreds of widely published Mars rover mosaics and lectures also about NASA’s Mars rovers
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