NASA’s “History-Making” Mission Results in the Retirement of the Mars Helicopter
Ingenuity, NASA’s experimental helicopter, has officially concluded its mission on Mars following what the space agency referred to as a “history-making” journey.
NASA’s Perseverance exploration, or rover, brought inventiveness to Mars in February 2021. In order to assist NASA in developing new aircraft capable of flying in the atmospheres of other planets, the experimental helicopter has undertaken numerous test flights on the Red Planet.
In April 2021, Ingenuity made history as the first aircraft to successfully finish a powered, controlled flight on a another planet.
Initially, Ingenuity was slated to be a one-month demonstration mission, according to NASA. The aircraft’s goal was to test lifting off, flying short distances, and landing on Mars. In a series of tests, the helicopter showed its capabilities quite rapidly.
NASA formally extended Ingenuity’s experimental mission until May 2021. The space agency reported that the chopper made 72 trips on Mars in all. The aircraft completed over two hours of flight time, traveling 14 times farther than scheduled.
Ingenuity was hailed by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson as “the little helicopter that could.” He mentioned that every new development in flight caught officials off guard.
However, Nelson reported that the helicopter had ultimately made its final flight due to rotor damage. He declared, “Ingenuity’s historic journey—the first aircraft on another planet—has come to (an) end.”
Nelson continued by saying that mission controllers found damage to at least one of the aircraft’s rotor blades during an attempt by Ingenuity to land. While the damage is still being looked into, the head of NASA speculated that the blade may have struck the ground during the attempted landing.
During its penultimate trip last week, Ingenuity reached a height of 12 meters, according to NASA, and lingered there for a brief period of time before descending. Due to the energy and temperature constraints of the helicopter, most flights are limited to a few minutes.
Nelson claimed that despite the thin Martian atmosphere, the helicopter managed to fly well. However, he pointed out that further development revealed the aircraft was “far beyond what we thought possible.”
Nelson stated that “future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond” were now possible thanks to Ingenuity’s mission.
NASA opted to extend the helicopter’s mission to support Perseverance with its rover operations after Ingenuity demonstrated good performance in flying tests. With this modification, the aircraft’s mission was formally changed to a “operations demonstration.”
According to NASA, Perseverance’s new exploration areas were found through ingenuity. While investigating the Jezero Crater, the rover and chopper have been gathering information and photos. The objective is to look for evidence of prehistoric life on Mars.
NASA reported that Ingenuity had aided in creating an aerial route to support Perseverance in undertaking new exploration endeavors. Ground-based flight controllers have been gathering information on every aspect of Ingenuity’s activities. According to them, NASA will be able to better build future aircraft for Mars with the use of this data.
The space agency approved the building of two tiny helicopters in 2022 to be used on next missions as a result of the success of the helicopter mission.
As Ingenuity carried out its operational duties, local teams experimented with novel rotor blade designs. Engineers revealed that the rotor blades had attained speeds almost equal to Mach 1, or the speed of sound, during ground testing that were finished last year.
Carbon makes up the blades that are tested on Earth. Designed to be faster and stronger than Ingenuity, they are longer by almost 10 cm. According to NASA, the rotor blades are built to handle larger, trickier helicopters.