NASA’s Mars Helicopter Intelligence is turning into a new operational test phase

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LOS ANGELES – After surpassing all expectations with its initial four test flights, NASA’s small Mars robotic helicopter is ready for graduation, first by a plane over the surface of another planet.

The U.S. space agency announced Friday that the shift from technological demonstration mode to aerial scouting and other activities will be an ambitious task of calculating how future Red Planet scientific research will benefit.

During a conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JBL) near Los Angeles, its work control center outlined a planned 30-day project extension where the twin-rotor aircraft was designed and built.

The 4-pound (1.8kg) solar-powered intermediate new “operational demonstration” phase began with the fourth departure of a nearly two-minute flight on Friday morning,

Data returning from ingenuity show that it covers a roundabout distance of 872 feet (266 meters) – approximately the length of three American football fields – at a speed of approximately 8 miles per hour (3.5 meters per second).

The helicopter flew at an altitude of about 16 feet (5 meters), which is considered ideal for ground-surveillance missions, matching the height of its second and third aircraft.

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The latest voyage topped the speed and distance records set by Flight No. 3 on Sunday, which went farther than test flights conducted on Earth.

By comparison, the first 39-second flight of ingenuity on Mars on April 19 ascended to a height of just 10 feet (3 meters), briefly landed at that point, and descended straight down to land.

While humble in terms of mere measurements, NASA compared this achievement in 1903 to the historic first controlled flight of the Wright Brothers’ motor-powered aircraft near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

According to NASA, operating a plane in the ultra-thin air of Mars was a challenge, as its atmosphere is 1% denser than Earth, making it very difficult to create an aerodynamic lift. To compensate for the ingenious engineers with the rotor blades, they are much larger than required on earth and rotate much faster.

The miniature helicopter made a trip to Mars on February 18 at the NASA Science Rover Perseverance Six Wheeler Astronomical Laboratory.

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Mimi Ang, JBL’s ingenious project manager, said that apart from the computer software glitch, two intelligent planes were delayed, Rotorcraft operated flawlessly and fulfilled all the technical objectives of its first three aircraft on Mars.

“Now it’s like getting a degree of ingenuity from a tech-demo phase to a new ops-demo phase,” he said.

While banging on the red-orange landscape of the planet, the ingenuity took its black and white images and multi-colored photographs of Mars.

Images are formatted into three-dimensional digital altitude maps and then used to select the new departure and landing zone suitable for new aircraft.

Similar surveillance measures can be used to assist mission managers to conduct low-altitude scientific surveillance of sites not easily reached by the rover and to search for preferred rover routes to various surface locations.

The next flight, No. 5, will send ingenuity on a one-way trip to a new “airport” in two or three weeks because engineers continue to push the helicopter beyond its design limits, Ang said. However, he told reporters that mission managers would not have pushed the aircraft so hard otherwise without its new “Ops-Demo” task.

In the meantime, JBL will be diligently preparing for its primary mission, which will look for traces of fossil microbes in the Xero gorge. Scientists expect to begin collecting Martian rock samples in July. (Report by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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Sophia Harrison

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I'm Sophia Harrison working as a part-time staff at the Costco since the past year until I become as an author at the iron blade, hope I can use my experiences with the supermarkets here.

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