After proving powered, controlled flight is conceivable on the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has new orders: scout ahead of the Perseverance rover to assist in its search for past signs of microbial life.
The next phase extends the rotocraft’s mission beyond the original month-long technology demonstration. Now, the goal is to evaluate how mannered flyers can help future exploration of Mars and other worlds.
“We are going to gather information on the operational make stronger capability of the helicopter while Perseverance makes a speciality of its science mission,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told reporters Friday.
The kind of reconnaissance that Ingenuity performs could at some point also prove useful to human missions, by scoping out the most productive paths for explorers to traverse, and reaching locations that are not differently conceivable.
The four pound (1.8 kilogram) mini chopper successfully performed the fourth of its five originally deliberate flights on Friday, “going farther & faster than ever before,” NASA tweeted.
The fifth is deliberate in the coming days, then its mission will be extended, to begin with by one Martian month.
If it continues beyond that will depend on whether it’s still in good shape and whether it’s helping, somewhat than hindering, the rover’s goals of collecting earth and rock samples for future lab analysis on Soil.
Chief engineer Bob Balaram predicted a limiting factor will be its ability to resist the frigid Mars nights, where temperatures plunge to -130 degrees Fahrenheit (-90 degrees Celsius).
Ingenuity assists in keeping warm with a solar-powered heater, but it was once only designed to final for a month and engineers are not certain “how many freeze and thaw cycles (it) can go through before something breaks,” he said.
NASA to begin with thought Perseverance would be driving absent from the site where it landed at the Jezero Crater on February 18, just north of the planet’s equator.
That would have meant the rover leaving Ingenuity at the back of and moving beyond communications range.
Now though, the agency wants to retain Perseverance in the area for some time after finding a rocky outcrop that they imagine contains one of the oldest fabric on the crater floor.
They hope to gather their first pattern in July.
Ingenuity’s exploits have captured the public’s imagination since it made its first flight on April 19, but NASA said this wasn’t a factor in its decision to allow the two robots to retain exploring Mars together.
“We in reality want to spend a large amount of time where we are and so it’s sort of a fortuitous alignment,” said Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley.
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