FRIDAY, July 9, 2021 5:56 p.m. — The Mars Helicopter broke records when it flew at high speed over “unfriendly terrain” this week.
Although it was just a simple technical demonstration, after nine successful flights, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has continued to prove to be an important member of the mission’s science team.
At about midday on July 5, on Mars, the Mars helicopter took off on its ninth successful flight over Jezero Crater. It was nail biting. According to the mission team. The drone flew farther, faster, and spent more time in the air than ever on any of its flights before.
The shadow of creativity is clearly visible in this Navcam in-flight image taken during Flight 9, July 5, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
“Flight 9 was not like the flights that preceded it,” the team wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. “It broke our records in terms of flight duration and flight speed, and it nearly quadrupled the distance traveled between two airfields. But what really marked the flight was the terrain that Ingenuity had to negotiate in two minutes and 46 seconds in the air – an area called ‘Séítah’ Difficult to traverse with a land vehicle like the Perseverance rover. This ride has also been explicitly designed to have scientific value by providing an up-close first look at key scientific objectives that the rover will not reach for some time.”
Séítah (meaning “middle of the sand” in Navajo) is one of the first major scientific targets of perseverance at Jezero Crater. It is a low, boulder-strewn area strewn with many undulating sand dunes. Unfortunately, Setah’s terrain can be too tricky to risk pushing perseverance right into the middle of it. On the other hand, Ingenuity managed to fly over the most interesting targets, taking color photos to send back to the team.
This initial image was taken by Ingenuity’s Color Camera, 12:35 p.m. local time on Mars, on July 5, 2021. While the black and white Navcam images show the view just below the drone, the color camera is pointed to the side, about 22 degrees below the horizon. The small silver ball at the top left (and the small one from the top right visible) are the helicopter’s landing feet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
One of the reasons this journey has been “nail-biting” is that, so far, creativity has flown over mostly flat ground. Intermediate like a spot of “unfriendly terrain” As the team called it In one of the blogs that preceded the trip. The land sloped into the feature, and Ingenuity flew over several dunes before the terrain rose again and flattened at the next flat helipad. The problem with flying over this type of terrain is that Ingenuity’s navigation software isn’t designed to interpret changes in the distance between it and Earth.
“When we as humans look at moving images of the Earth, such as those taken by Ingenuity’s navigation camera, we immediately have a good understanding of what we are looking at,” the team wrote. “We see rocks, ripples, shadows, texture, and the ups and downs of the terrain are relatively straightforward. Creativity, however, does not have a human perception and understanding of what it is looking at. It sees the world from an individual perspective, features unknown — essentially points that move with time — and tries to explain the movement of those points”.
Their solution to this was relatively simple.
“We told her these features are all on flat ground.”
This map shows the approximate flight path of Brilliant during her July 5 voyage. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
However, there is a risk of this solution. If Ingenuity’s navigation computer misinterprets something it sees in the images in flight, it could cause the helicopter to veer off course. Careful planning and anticipating potential problems based on other images to get your itinerary early can help reduce risks.
Now, with Ingenuity resting at its new airport, southwest of Séítah, the team is waiting for all the high-resolution color images to arrive here on Earth. Of particular interest is a feature known as the “Pilot Pinnacle”, which could be a relic of the deep-water environments in the lake that once filled Jezero Crater.