Mars helicopter undergoes stressful 6th flight, but survives to tell the tale

But the little helicopter built up muscle on its sixth flight on May 22 and survived, despite a few unforeseen swings in the Martian atmosphere.

The unexpected movement was caused by an image processing issue that disrupted the flight plan. However, Ingenuity was able to clear the last 213 feet (65 meters) of its 705-foot (215-meter) journey and land safely on the Martian surface. And he will live to fly another day.

Here is what happened.

The small 4-pound helicopter that could have made the five flights planned by its team on Earth by the end of April. When Ingenuity showed no signs of slowing down, its creators decided to extend its mission for another month and see what else it could do.

This flight was meant to be an aerial reconnaissance mission, showcasing the helicopter’s ability to fly over new territory while moving at 9 miles per hour (4 meters per second) for 140 seconds of flight. He would use his cameras to identify intriguing features on Mars and land at another airfield.

Ingenuity’s sixth flight was to begin with the helicopter rising 33 feet (10 meters) from the ground and flying southwest for 492 feet (150 meters). Once this distance was reached, Ingenuity would capture color images of an area of ​​interest as the helicopter flew south 15 to 20 meters (50 to 66 feet).

Once Ingenuity took these images, it was supposed to fly 50 meters northeast and land at a new airfield, called Field C.

Data from the flight shows that the first 492 feet (150 meters) and 54 seconds went well. Then something went wrong and Ingenuity started to sway in the air, adjusting its speed and tilting back and forth, according to Håvard Grip, chief Ingenuity pilot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. in Pasadena, California.

This spinning motion afflicted ingenuity for the remainder of his flight. Onboard sensors show that Ingenuity has endured pitch and roll movements of over 20 degrees and peaks in power consumption, Grip written in an update.

When the helicopter is in the air, Ingenuity tracks its own movement using an on-board inertial measurement unit, which measures the rotorcraft’s acceleration and rotation.

Tracking this information over time can be used to estimate the helicopter’s location, speed of movement, and orientation. The on-board computer can react and adjust quickly according to these movements.

This information is combined with inputs from Ingenuity’s navigation camera. This downward-facing camera captures 30 frames per second and sends them to the helicopter’s navigation system. Ingenuity is able to recognize time stamps and surface features to determine its actual location and make corrections to orientation, speed or position.

This image of Ingenuity was taken the day after its sixth flight by the Perseverance rover.

During Ingenuity’s flight, he experienced a problem delivering the navigation camera footage. Only one frame was lost, but this caused the rest of the frames to be marked with incorrect timestamps.

The helicopter’s navigation system was running on the inaccurate database and making adjustments based on those timestamps, causing it to spin.

Safe landing

However, ingenuity lived up to its namesake and survived this anomaly. It maintained flight and touched down within 5 meters (16 feet) of its predetermined landing point.

The helicopter survived this mad rush because it was designed to tolerate errors without falling into instability. The Ingenuity team also made the decision to no longer rely on the footage from the navigation cameras as the helicopter descended upon landing. This caused Ingenuity to ignore camera footage with incorrect data before landing, which allowed it to stop spinning, stabilize, and land at the correct speed.

Mars Helicopter Gets New Mission After Fourth Successful Flight

“In a very real sense, ingenuity has been building up through the situation, and while theft uncovered a timing vulnerability that will now need to be addressed, it also confirmed the robustness of the system in multiple ways,” he said. writes Grip.

“Although we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the limits of the helicopter’s performance envelope. This data will be carefully analyzed in the coming time, expanding our reservoir of knowledge about helicopter flight on Mars.


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