The Helicoptero ingenuity On Mars prepares for a complex “historic” day this coming Sunday: the first test flight of an aircraft to another planet as part of the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, which NASA compares to the achievement of the Wright brothers, pioneers of aviation on Earth.
This small plane left Florida (USA) in July 2020 attached to the belly of Perseverance, the rover that successfully landed on February 18th in the Jezero crater in the “Red Planet” after a precarious landing at high speed. In seven minutes after the transit Mars atmosphere.
Spaniard Jose Antonio Rodriguez Manfredi, the NASA superintendent for a small weather station on board, told Eevee that it’s like repeating the Wright brothers’ achievement, but also on another planet.
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He explained that this helicopter, roughly the size of a soccer ball, had a small piece of cloth from the wings of the original Wilbur and Orville Wright plane under the propellers.
A little over a hundred years ago, the brothers made this journey here on Earth, and now we see ourselves doing something similar on another planet, in another world.
“It is a historic gesture to unite these two special moments, that pioneering journey of the Wright brothers 118 years ago and this first voyage on another planet,” he goes on.
The scientist added: “A little more than a hundred years ago, the brothers made this journey here on Earth, and now we see ourselves doing something similar on another planet, in another world, also with conditions that are 274 million kilometers away.” In 1903, Wrights flew a heavier-than-air, manageable, and powered aircraft for only 59 seconds at Kitty Hawk Beach in Ohio, USA.
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NASA said on Friday that if all goes according to plan, the helicopter is expected to take off from the Jezero crater on Sunday at 12:30 PM local time on Mars (02.54 GMT on Monday).
Challenges of the Martian atmosphere
The idea, Rodriguez Manfredi explained, is for the creativity to rise about 5 meters, hold for 30 seconds and descend on Mars.
It is a great first step, he said, and they are planning five longer trips throughout the month. “It is an engineering challenge, it is a challenge for science in general and we will learn a lot,” the expert said.
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He pointed out that the period of “18 to 19 minutes” in the communications between the two planets is a sufficient period to make it difficult to control the plane in real time. “We cannot test it as we do here with a drone, and we cannot tell it to accelerate from right to left,” he said.
He added that from NASA’s Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California they send generic commands about altitude and acceleration, among other things, which are just “parameters” of dexterity “to manage its flight.”
These signals also go first to the perseverance vehicle, and this car sends them to the helicopter and then repeats the process in the opposite direction, arriving with the response to the ground. The Spaniard said, “All the choreography is like a ballet.” He specified that creativity would therefore use his artificial intelligence to fly independently and to discover risks himself.
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Through this exchange of information, the craft is also expected to send the first images of the persistent rover “from the air,” which Rodriguez Manfredi says will be “another truly historic moment”.
Rodriguez Manfredi said the challenge on the first flight also includes that the Martian atmosphere accounts for 1% of the Earth’s density, making the helicopter blades lack the support to propel themselves, to altitude.
He stated that creativity had to spin its blades much faster than if it were on the ground to get enough lift.
The US Space Agency hopes to succeed in this test flight in the thin Martian atmosphere, which will open the doors for more information to determine the existence of life on Mars and advance the exploration of other planets.
For the Spaniard, Rodriguez Manfredi, it is a “more valuable” technology that opens doors for future exploration, allowing access to many different locations that vehicles such as perseverance cannot reach.
However, it was claimed that Ibdaa, who weighs around 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) and is equipped with a camera and microphone, does not replace them, but rather complements them. The specialist is also proud that under his responsibility the MEDA weather station, which will contribute to the analysis of conditions in the Martian atmosphere.
He said, “If we are here on Earth, we need to know winds and storms to make Madrid’s trip to New York, for example, on Mars more than that.” Innovation trips will pave the way for future missions that will include advanced autonomous flying vehicles, collect high-resolution images from the air, and scan locations that are difficult to reach by mobile vehicles.
Rodriguez Manfredi noted that the primary goal of the mission is to collect samples and analyze the geology for signs of life. He added that the flight is a technical show: “We want to learn, to design more complex and larger air systems in the future.”