NASA’s Mars helicopter ‘went big’ for its second flight on Mars

NASA‘s Ingenuity Mars helicopter ‘went big’ with its second flight, reaching new milestones with a higher altitude, flying to the side and grabbing another black-and-white photo of its shadow on the ground below. 

The US space agency said it climbed up to 16ft above the surface, hovered, tilted slightly and then moved sideways 7ft. When in position it hovered again to take a series of colour photos before landing.

Writing on Twitter, NASA JPL said: Go big or go home! The Mars Helicopter successfully completed its 2nd flight,’ adding that it ‘reached new milestones of a higher altitude, a longer hover, and lateral flying.’ 

NASA confirmed it took off on schedule at about 10:30 BST, but due to delays in getting data to travel the 181 million miles between Earth and Mars, didn’t confirm it was a success until 14:44 BST.

Flying on Mars is particularly challenging due to the fact its atmosphere is just 1% of Earth’s at ground level, and while the lower gravity, a third of that on Earth, helps, it is only a partial offset against the thinner atmosphere.

This means that in order to fly, the helicopter has to be ultra-light and rotate its blades extremely fast, up to 2,500 rpm, in order to achieve lift.

Ingenuity made its first historic flight on Monday April 19, going up 10ft, hovering, snapping a photo, and returning to the newly named ‘Wright Brothers Field’.

Mission project lead, MiMi Aung, said every image of the helicopter on Mars is special, but the most iconic is the one taken by the craft showing its shadow on the surface, something Ingenuity replicated with the second flight.

Writing on Twitter, NASA JPL said: Go big or go home! The Mars Helicopter successfully completed its 2nd flight,' adding that it 'reached new milestones of a higher altitude, a longer hover, and lateral flying'

Writing on Twitter, NASA JPL said: Go big or go home! The Mars Helicopter successfully completed its 2nd flight,' adding that it 'reached new milestones of a higher altitude, a longer hover, and lateral flying'

Writing on Twitter, NASA JPL said: Go big or go home! The Mars Helicopter successfully completed its 2nd flight,’ adding that it ‘reached new milestones of a higher altitude, a longer hover, and lateral flying’ 

The US space agency said it climbed up to 16ft above the surface, hovered briefly, tilted and moved sideways for 7ft, taking a series of colour photos and then landed

While Ingenuity was sent to the Red Planet as a 'technical demonstration' with no science mission of its own, NASA says this could help scientists better understand how dust travels through the atmosphere of the Red Planet

While Ingenuity was sent to the Red Planet as a 'technical demonstration' with no science mission of its own, NASA says this could help scientists better understand how dust travels through the atmosphere of the Red Planet

While Ingenuity was sent to the Red Planet as a ‘technical demonstration’ with no science mission of its own, NASA says this could help scientists better understand how dust travels through the atmosphere of the Red Planet 

INGENUITY: THE SMALL ROTORCRAFT THAT TOOK TO THE MARTIAN SKY 

Ingenuity was designed as a technology demonstrator rather than carrying any of its own science experiments or equipment.

It rode to Mars attached to the belly of the SUV-size Perseverance rover.

The helicopter took off from the ‘Wright Brothers Field’ on Monday April 19, making history as the first powered flight on another world.

For the first flight, the helicopter took off, climbed to about 10ft above the ground, hovered in the air briefly, completed a turn, and then landed. 

It is built to be light and strong to survive the harsh Martian environment.

It weighs just under 4lb and is only 19 inches tall as it has to fly in the much thinner atmosphere – about 1% that of the atmosphere found on Earth.

It can fly up to 980ft, go up to 15ft in the sky and can spend about 90 seconds in the air before landing.

The rotors are 4ft in diameter and the craft includes solar panels that charge lithium-ion batteries.

It has a 30 day lifespan, with a total of five flights expected in that time. 

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NASA scientists say they plan to push Ingenuity ‘to the limit’ with every test flight between now and the end of the flight window in mid-May.  

Asked if NASA wants its helicopter to crash to show it has tested the full range of its capabilities, Aung, said she expects it will ‘meet its limit’.

The 19 inch tall and 4ft diameter helicopter will attempt to complete four more test flights involving further distances and higher altitudes in the next two weeks. 

For this second flight test at ‘Wright Brothers Field,’ the team set the small copter to take off at 10:30 BST, or 12:30 pm Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time).  

On the first flight, Ingenuity hovered 10 feet above the surface. This time around, the team made the rotorcraft climb to 16 feet, saying you have to ‘go big, or go home.’

Then, after the helicopter hovered briefly, it went into a slight tilt and moved sideways for 7 feet, coming to a stop and hovering in place. 

While hovering, it made a series of small turns to point its colour camera in different directions before heading back to the centre of the airfield to land. 

‘Of course, all of this is done autonomously, based on commands we sent to Perseverance to relay to Ingenuity the night before,’ said Aung in a NASA blog post.

As well as photos taken by the helicopter during its flight, Perseverance will also be on camera duty, capturing images of the flying vehicle from 210ft away.

NASA has named this vantage point overlooking Wright Brothers Field the ‘Van Zyl Overlook’ after Jakob van Zyl, a longterm member of the Perseverance team who died unexpectedly in August 2020, a month after the vehicle left the Earth. 

The imagery of that first flight was captured by Perseverance with its Navcam and Mastcam-Z cameras – showing the drone lift, shuffle and land. 

Ingenuity lead, MiMi Aung, said every image of the helicopter on Mars is special, but the most iconic is the one taken by the craft showing its shadow on the surface (right), which she compared in importance to the first image of Buzz Aldrin's boot print on the Moon in 1969 (left)

Ingenuity lead, MiMi Aung, said every image of the helicopter on Mars is special, but the most iconic is the one taken by the craft showing its shadow on the surface (right), which she compared in importance to the first image of Buzz Aldrin's boot print on the Moon in 1969 (left)

Ingenuity lead, MiMi Aung, said every image of the helicopter on Mars is special, but the most iconic is the one taken by the craft showing its shadow on the surface (right), which she compared in importance to the first image of Buzz Aldrin’s boot print on the Moon in 1969 (left)

NASA’s Perseverance rover makes OXYGEN on Mars for the first time 

Future astronauts travelling to the Red Planet can ‘breathe easy’ after NASA’s Perseverance rover made history by creating oxygen from Martian CO2.  

The six-wheeled rover is on Mars to search for signs of ancient life, look for water and gather samples of Martian soil and rock to one day return to the Earth.

It also has a range of other science experiments, including MOXIE, a small, gold box-shaped instrument that used electrolysis technology to generate oxygen. 

MOXIE, or the Mars Oxygen In-situ Resource Utilization Experiment, produced 5.4 grams of oxygen in an hour by pulling in CO2 and converting it to the life giving chemical during its first test on the Red Planet.

This version is capable of producing up to 12g of oxygen per hour, or about 288g per day. Astronauts on the ISS consume an average of 840g of O2 every day. 

‘This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,’ said NASA’s Jim Reuter, adding it will make future human missions more viable. 

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‘Every image we get of the helicopter on Mars is special to me: After all, this has never been done before,’ she explained.   

‘But I have to say that of all the images, perhaps the one that will stay with me the most is that image from the helicopter’s navigation camera.’ 

The black-and-white image was taken when the rotorcraft was just 3.9ft above the ground, showing the shadow of Ingenuity with its two rotors over the surface of the ‘Wright Brothers Field’ soon after takeoff. 

‘When I first saw [that image], I immediately thought of the picture Buzz Aldrin took of his boot print on the lunar surface,’ adding ‘that iconic image from Apollo 11 said ‘we walked on the Moon;’ ours says ‘we flew on another world,’ said Aung. 

After the flight Dr Aldrin shared that very photo, writing on Twitter: ‘Today we watched history occur in real time. Congratulations to NASA and the Perseverance  team on the first successful flight on another planet! 

‘This historic flight of the #MarsHelicopter truly is one small step that’ll produce another giant leap for future Mars exploration!’

US President Joe Biden praised Nasa’s team, saying the success of the mission proves ‘anything is possible’.

He said on Twitter: ‘NASA proved once again that with relentless determination and the power of America’s best minds, anything is possible.’ 

The NASA team say this technology demonstration will pave the way for many more, larger helicopters on future planetary missions throughout the solar system.

Chief engineer Bob Balaram said he envisaged a helicopter 15 times heavier than the 1.8kg Ingenuity being able to fly on the planet in the coming years.

He said: ‘We are thinking of things in the 25 to 30 kilogram class, which is about 50 pounds, and those vehicles would carry about four kilograms of science instruments.

‘Early design work on that has started to see what it would take to deploy these and operate them… but anything much larger, the packaging of the blades becomes quite awkward, so it may not be quite feasible in the near-term.’  

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars

Ingenuity as seen on Mars on April 7, 2021 in a photo taken by the rover Perseverance. If the 08:30 BST flight is a success then it will become the first powered, controlled flight to take off and land on another planet, giving NASA their own 'Wright Brothers moment'

Ingenuity as seen on Mars on April 7, 2021 in a photo taken by the rover Perseverance. If the 08:30 BST flight is a success then it will become the first powered, controlled flight to take off and land on another planet, giving NASA their own 'Wright Brothers moment'

Ingenuity as seen on Mars on April 7, 2021 in a photo taken by the rover Perseverance. If the 08:30 BST flight is a success then it will become the first powered, controlled flight to take off and land on another planet, giving NASA their own ‘Wright Brothers moment’

NASA has named this vantage point overlooking Wright Brothers Field the 'Van Zyl Overlook' after Jakob van Zyl, a longterm member of the Perseverance team who died unexpectedly in August 2020, a month after the vehicle left the Earth

NASA has named this vantage point overlooking Wright Brothers Field the 'Van Zyl Overlook' after Jakob van Zyl, a longterm member of the Perseverance team who died unexpectedly in August 2020, a month after the vehicle left the Earth

NASA has named this vantage point overlooking Wright Brothers Field the ‘Van Zyl Overlook’ after Jakob van Zyl, a longterm member of the Perseverance team who died unexpectedly in August 2020, a month after the vehicle left the Earth

WHAT IS MASTCAM-Z USED TO FILM THE INGENUITY FLIGHT 

The main purpose of Mastcam-Z, a camera mounted on a mast attached to Perseverance, is to take photos and video in high definition.

It is also able to capture panoramic, colour and 3D images of features in the atmosphere and on the surface.

It has a zoom lens so it can magnify distant targets, making it perfect to track the first Ingenuity flight.

It is mounted at the eye level of a 6 and a half foot tall person with two cameras about 9.5 inches apart.

NASA says it is the ‘main eyes’ of the Perseverance rover.  

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Ingenuity arrived at the Jezero Crater on February 18 after an eight-month journey spanning nearly 300 million miles, tucked inside the belly of Perseverance.

After the spacecraft landed, it dropped the drone on to the ground so Ingenuity could prepare for its maiden flight. 

It is designed to be mostly autonomous, so NASA will not be able to control the helicopter remotely, relying exclusively on the onboard AI to control flight.

This is because of the distance between Earth and Mars – it takes more than 11 minutes to get a radio signal back to Earth.

It is unlikely future versions will be controllable by humans, unless it is sent to the planet along with the first human mission in 2035. 

The technology tested in this Mars copter could allow additional support to survey the terrain for rovers and humans alike in the future, NASA explained.

‘It could also access difficult to access cliffs that cannot be reached by rovers. A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal.’

Another successful technology demonstration on Mars this week saw the MOXIE box attached to Perseverance generate oxygen from carbon dioxide taken from the thin Martian atmosphere.

It’s hoped one day the MOXIE technology could produce oxygen for astronauts on the Red Planet or fuel to help them return to Earth. 

NASA MARS 2020: THE MISSION WILL SEE THE PERSEVERANCE ROVER AND INGENUITY HELICOPTER SEARCH FOR LIFE

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of ancient life on on the Red Planet in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on Earth. 

Named Perseverance, the main car-sized rover will explore an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600ft deep lake.

It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago and the rover will examine soil samples to hunt for evidence of the life.

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 spaceship launched on July 30 with the rover and helicopter inside – and landed successfully on February 18, 2021.

Perseverance landed inside the crater and will collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

A second mission will fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s in partnership with the European Space Agency.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system

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