NASA hopes to record the Wright brothers’ moments in the 21st century on Monday as it tries to send a miniature helicopter flying over the surface of Mars in what will be the first flight powered and controlled from an aircraft on another planet.
The extraordinary achievements in science and technology can seem simple with conventional measurements. The Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight to the world on an engined plane, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, covered 120 feet (37 meters) in 12 seconds.
Likewise, there’s a modest debut on the Creative Store of NASA’s solar-powered twin-rotor helicopter.
If all goes according to plan, the 1.8 kg vortex will slowly rise straight up to 10 feet (3 meters) above the Martian surface, hover in place for 30 seconds, and then rotate before descending to a gentle level. . It landed on all four feet.
While the abstract scale may seem less ambitious, the “airspace” of the interplanetary test flight is located 173 million miles from Earth, at the base of the vast Mars Basin called the Jezero Crater. Success hinges on Ingenuity’s implementation of pre-programmed flight instructions using autonomous pilot and navigation systems.
“It’s almost time for our team to wait,” said innovation project manager MiMi Aung at a recent briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles.
NASA itself likens the experience to the Wright brothers 117 years ago, which paid tribute to its humble yet large first flight by pasting a small piece of wing web from the original Wright flyer underneath the Ingenuity Solar Panel.
The robotic plane was transported to the red planet while strapped to the belly of NASA’s Mars spacecraft, a mobile astronomy biology laboratory that landed on February 18 in the Jezero Crater after nearly seven months of traveling in space.
Although Ingenuity’s test flight is scheduled to start around 3:30 a.m. ET on Monday (07:30 GMT Monday), data confirming the results are not expected to reach the JPL mission control center until 6 a.m.: 15 a.m. ET on Monday.
NASA also expects to receive flight photos and videos that mission engineers hope to capture using cameras mounted on the Tenacity helicopter and aircraft, which will be parked 250 feet (76 meters) from the Ingenuity flight zone.
If the tests pass, Ingenuity will be making some extra-long trips in the coming weeks, although it will need to take a break of four to five days between each to recharge its batteries. Prospects for future flights hinge on a safe four-point landing for the first time.
“It doesn’t have a self-correcting system, so if our landing is bad, that will be the end of the job,” said Ong. Unpredictable gusts of wind are one of the potential hazards that can damage flights.
NASA hopes that creativity – a technical offering separate from basic persistence missions to find traces of ancient microorganisms – will pave the way for aerial observations of Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan.
While Mars has far less gravity to conquer than Earth, its atmosphere is only 1% density, which presents a special challenge to aerodynamic lift. To compensate, the engineers equipped Ingenuity with a larger rotor blade (4 feet long) that rotated faster than needed on the ground for an airplane of its size.
His design has been successfully tested in a vacuum built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to simulate Martian conditions, but it remains to be seen whether his creativity will fly on the Red Planet.
This small, lightweight aircraft has passed critical tests early on demonstrating its ability to withstand cold weather, with nighttime temperatures dropping to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), using only solar energy to recharge and store internal components. properly heated.
The planned flight was delayed by a week due to a technical error during the aircraft’s rotor rotation test on April 9. NASA says the problem has been resolved since then.
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