Washington, United States:
It was only supposed to fly five times. However, NASA’s helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, has completed 12 flights and is not ready for retirement.
Due to its astonishing and unexpected success, the US space agency has extended the Ingenuity mission indefinitely.
The small helicopter has become a regular travel companion for the persevering rover, whose primary mission is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars.
“Everything is going well,” said Josh Ravich, head of the mechanical engineering team at Ingenuity. “We’re on the surface better than we expected.”
Hundreds of people have contributed to the project, although only about a dozen currently hold daily roles.
Raveesh joined the team five years ago.
“When I had the opportunity to work on the helicopter project, I think I got the same reaction as everyone else: ‘Is this possible?”
His initial suspicions were understandable: the density of the air on Mars is only 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere. By comparison, flying a helicopter on Mars is like flying through the air 20 miles (30 kilometers) above Earth.
And it wasn’t easy to get to Mars in the first place. Creativity had to endure the initial shock of taking off from Earth, then landing on February 18 on the Red Planet after a seven-month journey through space, strapped to the rover’s belly.
Once in its new surroundings, the tiny helicopter (four pounds or 1.8 kilograms) had to survive the icy cold of Mars nights, drawing warmth from solar panels that charge its batteries during the day. Its flights are routed using an array of sensors, since a 15-minute delay in communications from the ground makes real-time routing impossible.
On April 19, Ingenuity made its maiden flight, making history as the first robotic vehicle to fly on another planet.
Exceeding all expectations, it flew 11 again.
“We were really able to handle stronger winds than we expected,” Ravic told AFP.
said Ravich, who works at NASA’s famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which developed the helicopter.
Since then, Ingenuity has flown 39 feet (12 meters), and its last flight took 2 minutes 49 seconds. Altogether, he traveled 1.6 miles.
In May, Ingenuity flew its first one-way mission, landing outside the relatively flat “airport” that had been carefully chosen as its first home.
But not everything went smoothly. Her sixth flight brought some excitement.
After suffering a serious loss of balance due to a malfunction that affected photos taken in flight to help her stabilize, the small craft was able to recover. You landed safe and sound, and the issue was resolved.
Creativity is now sent out to explore the path to perseverance with the high-resolution color camera.
The goal is twofold: to chart a safe course for the rover, but it is also of scientific interest, particularly from a geological point of view.
Ken Farley, who heads the science team at Perseverance, explained how images taken by Ingenuity during its twelfth voyage showed that the area dubbed South Seitha was less interested than scientists had hoped.
As a result, the rover may not be sent there.
After more than six months on the Red Planet, the tiny, drone-like craft has gained a growing following on Earth, appearing on coffee cups and T-shirts being sold online.
What explains longevity?
“The environment has been very cooperative so far: the temperatures, the wind, the sun, the dust in the air… It’s still very cold, but it could have been a lot worse,” Ravic said.
In theory, the helicopter should be able to continue operating for some time. But the approaching Martian winter will be difficult.
NASA engineers, now armed with data from the Ingenuity flights, are already working on the next generation of their successors.
“Something in the 20 to 30 kilogram (range) range would probably be able to carry scientific payloads,” Ravic said.
Those future payloads may include rock samples collected by perseverance.
NASA plans to retrieve those samples during a future mission — sometime in the 2030s.
(This story has not been edited by the NDTV crew and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)