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NASA extends Ingenuity Mars Helicopter mission – Phys.org

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image in the northwest portion of a region known as “Séítah” using its high-resolution color camera during its 20th flight on Feb. 25, 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has extended flight operations of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter through September. In the months ahead, history’s first aircraft to operate from the surface of another world will support the Perseverance rover’s upcoming science campaign exploring the ancient river delta of Jezero Crater. Along the way, it will continue testing its own capabilities to support the design of future Mars air vehicles.

The announcement comes on the heels of the rotorcraft’s 21st successful flight, the first of at least three needed for the helicopter to cross the northwest portion of a region known as “Séítah” and reach its next staging area.

“Less than a year ago we didn’t even know if powered, controlled flight of an aircraft at Mars was possible,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Now, we are looking forward to Ingenuity’s involvement in Perseverance’s second science campaign. Such a transformation of mindset in such a short period is simply amazing, and one of the most historic in the annals of air and space exploration.”

Ingenuity’s new area of operations is entirely different from the modest, relatively flat terrain it has been flying over since its first flight last April. Several miles wide and formed by an ancient river, the fan-shaped delta rises more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor. Filled with jagged cliffs, angled surfaces, projecting boulders, and sand-filled pockets that could stop a rover in its tracks (or upend a helicopter upon landing), the delta promises to hold numerous geologic revelations—perhaps even the proof necessary to determine that microscopic life once existed on Mars billions of years ago.

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Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity’s first orders will be to help determine which of two dry river channels Perseverance should take when it’s time to climb to the top of the delta. Along with routing assistance, data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets. Ingenuity may even be called upon to image geologic features too far afield (or outside of the rover’s traversable zone), or perhaps scout landing zones and caching sites for the Mars Sample Return program.

“The Jezero river delta campaign will be the biggest challenge the Ingenuity team faces since first flight at Mars,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “To enhance our chances of success, we have increased the size of our team and are making upgrades to our geared toward improving operational flexibility and flight safety.”

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s carbon fiber blades can be seen in this video taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover on April 8, 2021, the 48th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. They are performing a wiggle test before the actual spin-up to ensure they were working properly. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Higher flights

Several of these upgrades have led to reduced navigation errors during flight, which increases both flight and landing safety. A recent software change already on the rotorcraft frees Ingenuity from its previously programmed maximum altitude of 50 feet (15 meters). The altitude gains could result in incremental increases in both air speed and range. A second upgrade allows Ingenuity to change airspeed as it flies. Another enables it to better understand and adjust to changes in terrain texture during flight. Future software upgrades may include adding terrain elevation maps into the navigation filter and a landing-hazard-avoidance capability.

Before aerial reconnaissance of the delta can begin, Ingenuity has to complete its journey to the area. Scheduled for no earlier than March 19, Ingenuity’s next flight will be a complex journey, about 1,150 feet (350 meters) in length, that includes a sharp bend in its course to avoid a large hill. After that, the team will determine whether two or three more flights will be required to complete the crossing of northwest Séítah.

NASA Extends Ingenuity Helicopter Mission
This annotated image depicts the multiple flights – and two different routes – NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter could take on its trip to Jezero Crater’s delta. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/USGS

The first experimental flight on another world took place on April 19, 2021, and lasted 39.1 seconds. After another four flights, six more minutes in the air, and traveling a total distance of 1,637 feet (499 meters), NASA transitioned Ingenuity into an operations demonstration phase, testing its ability to provide an aerial dimension to the Perseverance mission. With the completion of Flight 21, the rotorcraft has logged over 38 minutes aloft and traveled 2.9 miles (4.64 kilometers). As Ingenuity pushes farther into uncharted territory, these numbers will inevitably go up, and previous flight records will more than likely fall.

“This upcoming will be my 22nd entry in our logbook,” said Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip of JPL. “I remember thinking when this all started, we’d be lucky to have three entries and immensely fortunate to get five. Now, at the rate we’re going, I’m going to need a second book.”


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Ingenuity Mars Helicopter spots Perseverance from above


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Joe Biden Wants to Put a Japanese Astronaut on the Moon – Gizmodo

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Gateway, illustrated here, will serve as a crucial part of the upcoming Artemis missions.
Illustration: NASA

President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida further solidified their plans to send a Japanese astronaut to the upcoming lunar space station, while also affirming the possibility of having a Japanese astronaut walk on the Moon during future Artemis missions.

Biden and Kishida met in Tokyo on Monday to continue discussions around an Implementing Agreement that will potentially place a Japanese astronaut on the Gateway space station. The leaders also reaffirmed each country’s commitment to share data on climate change. The discussion around Gateway personnel is a part of ongoing conversations between the U.S. and Japan regarding NASA’s upcoming missions to the Moon.

Gateway is an integral component of NASA’s larger effort to return to the Moon, a series of upcoming missions known as the Artemis program. Once built, Gateway will serve as a Moon-orbiting outpost offering lunar-bound astronauts support for their visit. The lunar space station, in addition to serving as critical infrastructure for the Artemis missions, will also serve as a staging point for future crewed missions to Mars. The first pieces of the upcoming lunar station are set to launch no earlier than November 2024.

“In recent years, the alliance between Japan and the United States has grown stronger, deeper, and more capable as we work together to take on new challenges—just as important as the opportunities—of a rapidly changing world,” said President Biden in a NASA press release.

Japan and the U.S. are also interested in placing a Japanese astronaut on the surface of the Moon during a yet-to-be-determined Artemis mission, according to a White House fact sheet. NASA is looking to land astronauts on the lunar south pole by 2025, and Artemis will involve the first crewed Moon missions since Apollo 17 in 1972. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in the release: “Our shared ambition to see Japanese and American astronauts walk on the Moon together reflects our nations’ shared values to explore space responsibly and transparently for the benefit of humanity here on Earth.”

While the first pieces of Gateway are still a few years away from launch, having the U.S. and Japan team up is an opportunity to get more nations involved. The Artemis missions will be a global effort, and getting back to the Moon represents an exciting next step in space exploration and engineering.

More: This Tiny Moon-Bound Satellite Could Carve a Path For a Lunar Space Station.

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Crumbling comet could create meteor shower May 30 – Toronto Sun

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A crumbling comet could create a meteor shower on May 30.

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The ‘tau Herculids’ meteor display might be one of the most dramatic observed in over two decades, according to Space.com.

Meteor showers occur when dust or particles from asteroids or comets enter Earth’s atmosphere at a very high speed, the U.K. Sun explained.

This one is expected to be the product of a comet named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, also known as SW3.

SW3 was first discovered in 1930 but did not reappear again until the 1970s, Republic World reported.

In 1995, astronomers noticed that the comet’s nucleus split into four smaller chunks, according to CNET.

It has continued to disintegrate more in the ensuing years.

The display is expected to be very visible in the Northern Hemisphere as it is occurring on a Moon-less night.

A consensus of experts predicts that the shower will be visible starting from 1 a.m. EST on May 31.

It is suggested viewers will want to be outside at least an hour before this so your eyes have a chance to adjust to the dark.

“The southwestern USA and Mexico are favored locations as the radiant, the area of the sky where these meteors come from, will be located highest in a dark sky,” Robert Lunsford wrote for AMS.

“The outburst may be seen from southeastern Canada and the remainder of the (eastern) USA, but at a lower altitude.”

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Boeing capsule returns from space station after test flight with no crew – CBC News

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Boeing’s crew taxi returned to Earth from the International Space Station on Wednesday, completing a repeat test flight before NASA astronauts climb aboard.

It was a quick trip back: the Starliner capsule parachuted into the New Mexico desert just four hours after leaving the orbiting lab, with airbags attached to cushion the landing. Only a mannequin was buckled in.

Aside from thruster failures and cooling system snags, Starliner appeared to clinch its high-stakes shakedown cruise, 2½ years after its botched first try. Flight controllers in Houston applauded and cheered the bull’s-eye touchdown.

NASA astronauts will strap in next for a trip to the space station. The space agency has long wanted two competing U.S. companies ferrying astronauts, giving it added insurance as it drastically reduced its reliance on Russia for rides to and from the space station.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already the established leader, launching astronauts since 2020 and even tourists. Its crew capsules splash down off the Florida coast; Boeing’s Starliner returns to the U.S. Army’s expansive White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

This image from NASA TV shows the Boeing Starliner approaching the International Space Station last Friday. (NASA/The Associated Press)

Boeing scrapped its first attempt to reach the space station in 2019, after software errors left the capsule in the wrong orbit and nearly doomed it. The company fixed the flaws and tried again last summer, but corroded valves halted the countdown. Following more repairs, Starliner finally lifted off from Cape Canaveral last Thursday and docked to the space station Friday.

Station astronauts tested Starliner’s communication and computer systems during its five days at the space station. They also unloaded hundreds of kilograms of groceries and other supplies that flew up in the Boeing capsule, then filled it with empty air tanks and other discarded gear.

A folded U.S. flag sent up by Boeing stayed behind, to be retrieved by the first Starliner crew.

“We’re a little sad to see her go,” station astronaut Bob Hines radioed as the capsule flew away.

Along for the ride was Starliner’s test dummy — Rosie the Rocketeer, a takeoff on the Second World War’s Rosie the Riveter.

The repairs and do-over cost Boeing nearly $600 million US.

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