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NASA delays Ingenuity helicopter flight to Mars

The malfunction appeared during the testing of the aircraft's rotors on Saturday.

Scheduled for Sunday, Ingenuity's trip is postponed until at least April 14.

NASA has delayed for several days its mission; the first flight of its miniature helicopter on Mars because of a technical problem.

This problem appeared during the test of its rotors, announced Saturday, April 10 the U.S. space agency. 


NASA delays Ingenuity helicopter


The trip of Ingenuity - the first flight of a motorized machine on Mars - was scheduled for Sunday.

A high-speed test of the 1.8-kilogram helicopter's rotors ended earlier than expected after an alert warning of a potential problem was triggered.

"The helicopter team is reviewing the telemetry to diagnose and understand the problem," NASA said in a statement. 

"Following that, they will reschedule the test at full speed, "NASA said the helicopter was "safe and sound" and sent information back to Earth.


Initially, the mission for Sunday was to fly Ingenuity in place for thirty seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover.

Which landed on Mars on Feb 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.

NASA calls this unprecedented mission very risky. 

The flight is a real challenge, because to fly in a Martian atmosphere much less dense than that of our planet.

The rotation speed of Ingenuity's blades must be much higher (at least 2,400 revolutions per minute).


1. Five flights planned

The helicopter will transmit technical data to the Perseverance rover, which will in turn be sent to Earth. 

Among these first data, a black and white photo of the ground taken by Ingenuity.

Then, once its batteries are recharged, it will transmit a color image of the horizon.

But the most spectacular images should come from Perseverance, placed in observation several meters away, and which should film the flight. 

In case of success, a second mission (flight to the space) could take place four days later. 

Up to five flights to the space in all are planned, of increasing difficulty.

One of NASA's objectives being that the helicopter rises to a height of 5 meters, then moves sideways.

The first of the planned missions will be the Mars equivalent of the first powered flight on Earth, in 1903, by the Wright brothers. 

Piece of fabric from that aircraft that took off more than a century ago in North Carolina, USA, has even been placed aboard Ingenuity.

Whatever happens, after a month at the most, Ingenuity's mission will come to an end.

That’s by leaving the Perseverance rover to focus on its main task: searching for traces of ancient life on Mars planet.


2. The Wright brothers' first flight

If successful, the second flight will take place no more than four days later.

Up to five flights in all are planned, of increasing difficulty. 

NASA would like to be able to make the helicopter going up to 5 meters high, and then try to make it move sideways

The operation will be the equivalent on Mars of the first flight of a motorized aircraft on Earth, in 1903, by the Wright brothers. 

A piece of fabric from this aircraft that took off more than a century ago in US has even been placed on board Ingenuity.


3. Optimizing for Martian atmospheric conditions

Technically, the big challenge for Ingenuity is to "send a lot of mass to the ground".

To do this, we must send the little matter that there is in the Martian air as quickly as possible with a very high rotation speed.

On Ingenuity, it is between 2,400 and 2,900 revolutions per minute, which is "10 times that of the blades of a helicopter on Earth".

"This is what will cause the propulsive force and elevation of the aircraft. "

But this necessary speed has "a huge drawback".

At the end of the blades, it "quickly reaches the speed of sound"! Of course, this is a known phenomenon and perfectly mastered on Earth, but on Mars.

 NASA is "confronted with a new and almost unexplored field of aerodynamics with such a small rotor and blades". 

On Mars, this speed of sound is 238 meters per second; lower than on Earth, measured at 340 meters per second.

At some point during the flight, Ingenuity will be confronted with "transonic phenomena, which are aerodynamic phenomena generated at the passage of sound barrier. 

Specifically, there is a "kind of sound barrier that occurs at the tip of the blade, which slows down the rotor".


4. To avoid drama, Perseverance will move away

At the same time, Perseverance rover (which housed Ingenuity inside before dropping it recently) will move away from about 60 meters, for safety reasons.

NASA plans up to five flights, of increasing difficulty, over a one-month period.

In the end, what is the mission of this spacecraft? By rising from the ground, it will be able to film what is in front of Perseverance.

The images will allow guiding the robot even better.


5. Temperature is in the Martian crater

Among the scientific instruments embarked by the Perseverance rover on Mars, there is a meteorological station.

MEDA (for "Mars Environmental DynamicsAnalyzer") provided a first-ever "weather report" in the Jezero crater, where the Mars 2020 mission landed on Feb 18, 2021.

The weather station sensors were deployed shortly thereafter.

On April 6, NASA informed that the astromobile had obtained its first temperature measurement on Mars planet:

When the system started operating on Feb.19, it was less than -20°C on the surface of the Red Planet, at its location in Jezero crater.

The measured temperature rose to -25.6°C, 30 minutes later.


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