Tuesday, July 27

All set for the first helicopter flight over another world


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The mission Mars 2020 from NASA has set out to make history in Mars in many ways: after recording a landing on the Red Planet for the first time and sending videos over the surface of our neighbor, the next challenge will be to demonstrate that human technology is capable of flying a helicopter in another world. Thus, Ingenuity is called to be the first aerial vehicle that will attempt to emulate the feat of the wright brothers -in fact, it carries inside a little fragment of that first plane– but on a different planet. A chapter that, if everything goes according to plan, will happen the next Sunday morning, although the confirmation that everything has gone well (or badly), including images and videos, will take place first thing in the morning (9:30 Spanish time) on next Monday.

“Days before that December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers carried out some tests that went wrong. But they learned from all that and in the end no one has questioned their success. This will also be a flight test with which we will learn many things. Whatever happens, “he said. MiMi Aung, the person in charge of the Ingenuity project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), during a previous press conference held this Friday. Despite this assertion, Aung assured that his team “is confident in the success” of the operations, as the first data from Ingenuity is going according to expectations. In addition, reports on the Martian weather For the next few days, keys for the engineers to give the final go-ahead for the helicopter takeoff, they seem quite good (with winds of about 6 meters per second, below 11 m / s up to which the aircraft can hold).

The concrete maneuvers

It is planned that on its maiden voyage this Sunday (the first in a series of tests that will last for 30 Martian days or 31 Earth days) Ingenuity take off, rise 3 meters above the ground, stay there for 30 seconds and then descend again. Although it may seem simple, actually flying on Mars is quite a feat: in addition to the winds, its atmosphere is thin (about 1% of the density of the Earth’s atmosphere) and its freezing nights can affect the systems of the aircraft. What’s more, cannot be controlled directly by JPL engineers, but, due to delays in communications with Earth, the orders should be shipped well in advance, and the data will return long after each flight occurs (hence the confirmations occur on Monday and not on Sunday, when the flights are made). Even so, Ingenuity has great autonomy to be able to make its own decisions during operations, which if successful, will be complicated by adding time in the air and distance traveled.

For now, the helicopter has been able to overcome its first overnight stays and the latest tests indicate that the blades, which will have to rotate much faster than they would on Earth in order to lift their 1.8 kilograms of weight, work according to as planned. “We are nervous but also excited because we know that the team has done a good job and the first data makes us confident of success,” he said. Tim Canham, Ingenuity’s chief operating officer.

These operations will pave the way for future missions that will include advanced robotic flying vehicles, collect high-resolution images from the air, and examine sites that are difficult for rovers to reach. “And who knows if the next time we take a drone to Mars it will be directed directly by a human on the surface of the Red Planet,” Aung said. The first step for that moment, this Sunday.

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