Mars Helicopter Ingenuity
|Part of Mars 2020|
|Manufacturer||Jet Propulsion Laboratory|
|Dimensions||Chasis: 14 cm3 (0.85 cu in)|
|Diameter||120 cm (47 in)|
|Height||80 cm (31 in)|
|Launch date||30 July 2020, 11:50 UTC|
|Launch site||Cape Canaveral SLC-41|
|Landing date||18 February 2021, 20:00UTC (planned)|
|Landing site||Jezero crater|
JPL's Mars Helicopter insignia
Mars Helicopter Ingenuity is a robotic helicopter that is planned to be used to test the technology to scout interesting targets on Mars, and help plan the best driving route for future Mars rovers. The small drone helicopter is planned for deployment in 2021 from the Perseverance rover as part of the NASA Mars 2020 mission.
It is planned to make the first powered flight on any planet beyond Earth, and is expected to fly up to five times during its 30-day test campaign, early in the rover's mission, as it is primarily a technology demonstration. Each flight is planned to be at altitudes ranging from 3 to 10 m above the ground. It could potentially cover a distance of up to 300 metres (980 ft) per flight. It can use autonomous control during its short flights, although flights will be telerobotically planned and scripted by controllers at JPL. It will communicate with the Perseverance rover directly after each landing. If it works as expected, NASA could build on the design for future Mars aerial missions.
|Rotor speed||2400 rpm|
|Blade tip speed||<0.7 Mach|
|Operational time||1 to 5 flights within 30 sols|
|Maximum range, flight||300 m (980 ft)|
|Maximum range, radio||1,000 m (3,300 ft)|
|Maximum altitude||10 m (33 ft)|
|Battery capacity||35–40 Wh (130–140 kJ)|
Ingenuity is designed to be a technology demonstrator by JPL to assess whether this technology can fly safely, and provide better mapping and guidance that would give future mission controllers more information to help with travel routes planning and hazard avoidance, as well as identifying points of interest for the rover. The helicopter is designed to provide overhead images with approximately ten times the resolution of orbital images, and would display features that may be occluded from the rover cameras. It is expected that such scouting may enable future rovers to safely drive up to three times as far per sol.
The helicopter uses counter-rotating coaxial rotors about 120 cm (47 in) in diameter. Its payload is planned to be a high resolution downward-looking camera for navigation, landing, and science surveying of the terrain, and a communication system to relay data to the Perseverance rover. Although it is an aircraft, it is being constructed to spacecraft specifications in order to endure the g-force and vibration during launch. It also includes radiation-resistant systems capable of operating in the frigid environment of Mars. The inconsistent Mars magnetic field precludes the use of a compass for navigation, so it is planned to use a solar tracker camera integrated to JPL's visual inertial navigation system. Some additional inputs include gyros, visual odometry, tilt sensors, altimeter, and hazard detectors. It is designed to use solar panels to recharge its batteries, which are six Sony Li-ion cells with 35–40 Wh (130–140 kJ) of battery energy capacity (nameplate capacity of 2 Ah).
The main computing engine for Ingenuity uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and uses the Qualcomm flight board distributed by Intrinsyc, with a Linux operating system. Among other functions, this controls the visual navigation algorithm via a velocity estimate derived from features tracked with a camera. The Qualcomm processor is connected to two flight-control microcontroller units (MCUs) to perform the needed flight-control functions. Communications with the rover are through a radio link using low-power Zigbee communication protocol, implemented via 900 MHz SiFlex 02 chipsets mounted in both the rover and helicopter. The communication system is designed to relay data at 250 kbit/s over distances of up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft).
The helicopter is planned to travel to Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover and to be deployed to the surface between 60 and 90 Martian days (sols) after the landing. Then, the rover is expected to drive approximately 100 m (330 ft) away for the beginning of the test flight campaign.
In 2019, preliminary designs of Ingenuity were tested on Earth in simulated Mars atmospheric and gravity conditions. For flight testing, a large vacuum chamber was used to simulate the very low atmospheric pressure of Mars — less than 1% of standard atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth — which is the equivalent of a helicopter flying at 30,000 m (98,000 ft) in the atmosphere of Earth. In order to simulate the much reduced gravity field of Mars, 62% of Earth's gravity was offset by a line pulling upwards during flight tests.
Future Mars rover design iteration
The Ingenuity technology demonstrator used on the Mars 2020 mission could form the foundation on which more capable aircraft might be developed for aerial exploration of Mars and other planetary targets with an atmosphere. The next generation of rotorcraft could be in the range between 5 and 15 kg with science payloads between 0.5 and 1.5 kg. These potential aircraft could have direct communication to an orbiter and may or may not continue to work with a landed asset. Future helicopters could be used to explore special regions with exposed water ice or brines where Earth microbial life could potentially survive. Mars helicopters may also be considered for fast retrieval of small sample caches back to a Mars ascent vehicle for return to Earth.It will also pave the way for Dragonfly, a 2034 Saturn's moon, Titan Rotorcraft lander for carrying out research on its surface.
NASA's JPL and AeroVironment published the conceptual design in 2014 for a scout helicopter to accompany a rover. By mid 2016, US$15 million was being requested to keep development of the helicopter on track. By December 2017, engineering models of the vehicle had been tested in a simulated Martian atmosphere and models were undergoing testing in the Arctic, but its inclusion in the mission had not yet been approved nor funded. The United States federal budget announced in March 2018, provided US$23 million for the helicopter for one year and it was announced on 11 May 2018 that the helicopter could be developed and tested in time to be included in the Mars 2020 mission. The helicopter underwent extensive flight-dynamics and environment testing, and was then mounted on the underside of the Perseverance rover in August 2019. Its mass is just under 1.8 kilograms (4.0 lb) and JPL has specified that it planned to have a design life of 5 flights on Mars. The helicopter was named by Vaneeza Rupani, an 11th grader at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama, who submitted an essay into NASA's "Name the Rover" contest. NASA has invested about US$80 million to build the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter and about US$5 million to operate the helicopter.
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