When NASA’s Perseverance rover landed within the Jezero crater on February 18th, 2021, it introduced with it an fascinating little companion that’s been inflicting fairly a stir of late! We are speaking, after all, concerning the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, an experimental flight system designed to show if aerial programs can work on Mars. Since its inaugural flight on April 19th, the helicopter has been pushing the boundaries of flight on Mars, going farther and sooner every time.
In reality, the helicopter managed to determine a number of data in the middle of its first 5 flights, reaching a most distance of 266 m (873 ft) in 117 seconds. Unfortunately, issues didn’t go so effectively for Ingenuity throughout its sixth and newest flight. Due to a navigation timing error, the helicopter strayed from its flight path, however managed to land safely only a few meters from the place it was purported to.
This is the primary time that Ingenuity has suffered a malfunction because it first took to the Martian skies over six weeks in the past. Luckily, the fail-secure programs prevented any accidents, and mission controllers have been capable of decide the supply of the issue. The bother started close to the tip of the primary leg of the helicopter’s sixth check flight, which happened on Saturday, May 22nd, or the 91st day of the Perseverance mission (Sol 91).
Long-range photograph of Ingenuity, taken by Perseverance’s SuperCam instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/Kevin M. GillAccording to chief pilot Håvard Grip, who just lately wrote concerning the error on the mission’s Status Update web page, this flight was meant to push the flight envelope even farther and show the helicopter’s aerial imaging capabilities This would encompass the helicopter climbing to an altitude of 10 m (33 ft) earlier than flying horizontally for 150 m (492 ft) to the southwest at a pace of four m/s (14.four km/h; 9 mph).
Once there, it was to maneuver one other 15 m (49 ft) to the south whereas taking photographs in the direction of the west, then fly one other 50 m (164 ft) northeast earlier than touchdown – for a complete spherical journey of 215 m (705 ft).
“Telemetry from Flight Six shows that the first 150-meter leg of the flight went off without a hitch. But toward the end of that leg, something happened: Ingenuity began adjusting its velocity and tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern. This behavior persisted throughout the rest of the flight. Prior to landing safely, onboard sensors indicated the rotorcraft encountered roll and pitch excursions of more than 20 degrees, large control inputs, and spikes in power consumption.”
The concern seems to have been the results of a “glitch” within the picture pipeline being despatched from the navigation digicam to the navigation system, throwing the timing sequence off and complicated the craft about its location. The navigation digicam is one in every of two utilized by Ingenuity and is accountable for monitoring floor options which are utilized by the helicopter’s flight pc to maintain the helicopter inside its predesignated flight path.
As Ingenuity covers better distances, extra photographs are wanted to maintain observe of its flight path and guarantee it doesn’t veer off beam. According to chief pilot Havard Grip, this “glitch” within the pipeline of photographs being despatched by the navigation digicam occurred roughly 54 seconds into the flight:
“This glitch caused a single image to be lost, but more importantly, it resulted in all later navigation images being delivered with inaccurate timestamps. From this point on, each time the navigation algorithm performed a correction based on a navigation image, it was operating on the basis of incorrect information about when the image was taken. The resulting inconsistencies significantly degraded the information used to fly the helicopter, leading to estimates being constantly “corrected” to account for phantom errors. Large oscillations ensued.”
Fortunately, the engineers at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who constructed Ingenuity have been positive to incorporate a big “stability margin” within the design of the helicopter’s flight management system (thus permitting it to tolerate important errors with out changing into unstable). This kicked in throughout the flight and allowed Grip and the mission group to securely convey the helicopter down simply 5 meters (16 ft) away from its meant touchdown web site.
In addition, the mission group has a course of the place they cease utilizing the navigation digicam photographs throughout the closing part of the descent and touchdown. This ensures clean and steady estimates of the helicopter’s movement throughout this notably crucial part of flight testing. That observe paid off right here because it ensured that Ingenuity was ignoring photographs topic to timing errors in the direction of the tip of its sixth flight and was capable of cease oscillating and stage out earlier than touching down.
Image of Ingenuity was taken on May 23, 2021 – the day after its sixth flight – by the Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSSWhile the flight was topic to failure, Grip emphasised that it demonstrated the effectiveness of Ingenuity’s sophistication and subsystems that got here into play. These included the helicopter’s rotor system, actuators, and energy system, which responded to the elevated energy calls for brought on by the glitch and saved the helicopter flying. It was these very fail-safes that allowed for a margin of success in what in any other case might have been a catastrophe.
“In a very real sense, Ingenuity muscled through the situation, and while the flight uncovered a timing vulnerability that will now have to be addressed, it also confirmed the robustness of the system in multiple ways,” stated Grip. “While we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter’s performance envelope. That data will be carefully analyzed in the time ahead, expanding our reservoir of knowledge about flying helicopters on Mars.”
Two months after the Perseverance rover landed on Mars, Ingenuity turned the primary plane to make a powered flight on one other planet. Originally, the know-how demonstrator was solely meant to carry out 5 check flights over the course of 30 mission days (sols). Its success to date has impressed NASA to the purpose that they’ve determined to increase its mission by a minimum of a month.
The information it gathers will inform future missions to Mars and different non-airless our bodies (like Titan), the place aerial automobiles will have the ability to conduct science and supply a singular perspective on extraterrestrial environments. In brief, this “little helicopter that could” was nothing if not appropriately named!
Further Reading: Phys.org, NASA
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