Mars Helicopter Ingenuity is Ready for a New Assignment
While the rover Perseverance is busy checking out its complex of scientific instruments and operating systems, before embarking on her mission to find remains of ancient life on Mars, the two-kilo passenger that hitched a ride to the Red Planet has been stealing the show.
Since the duo landed on Mars on Feb. 18, the Ingenuity helicopter has carried out test flights. It was designed as a technology demonstration mission to see if a powered, controlled vehicle could fly once it was on Mars. In that way, successful results would validate the theoretical calculations and wind tunnel simulations that engineers had developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to design the vehicle.
The program was planned to have five test flights within 30 Martian days. After that, Perseverance would have to end its supporting role in the helicopter flights and begin its own exploration mission. The first flight was on April 19. After the third, Ingenuity chief engineer Bob Balaram stated on April 28: “When Ingenuity’s landing legs touched down after that third flight, we knew we had accumulated more than enough data to help engineers design future generations of Mars helicopters.”
Two days later, the fourth flight took place, with Ingenuity collecting black and white images, after which it hovered to take images in color. After four successful tests, NASA engineers decided to prolong the mission beyond one month, and to transition from a technology demonstration to an operational demonstration phase. Ingenuity, NASA said, “will soon embark on a new operation demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.” One of its assignments will be to search for potential sites for Perseverance to explore.
The rover has not been sitting idly by during the helicopter flights. Ingenuity is much too small to have a communication system capable of communicating with Earth, so it receives its orders on a daily basis via Perseverance from Mission Control.
The data from the tests then go the other way, from the flyer, to the rover, and then to Earth. During the flight tests, the rover was positioned a couple hundred feet from the “launch pad”, and took spectacular photos and videos of the launchings, hovering, and landings of Ingenuity.