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NASA Ingenuity Mars helicopter prepares for first flight – Phys.org

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An illustration of NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter flying on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now uncocooned from its protective carbon-fiber shield, the helicopter is being readied for its next steps.

NASA is targeting no earlier than April 8 for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to make the first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. Before the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft can attempt its first flight, however, both it and its team must meet a series of daunting milestones.

Ingenuity remains attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars Feb. 18. On March 21, the rover deployed the guitar case-shaped graphite composite debris shield that protected Ingenuity during landing. The rover currently is in transit to the “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt to fly. Once deployed, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days, or sols, (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flight campaign.

“When NASA’s Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. “Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.”

Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. The Red Planet has significant gravity (about one-third that of Earth’s), but its atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth’s at the surface. During Martian daytime, the planet’s surface receives only about half the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth during its daytime, and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), which can freeze and crack unprotected electrical components.

To fit within the available accommodations provided by the Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter must be small. To fly in the Mars environment, it must be lightweight. To survive the frigid Martian nights, it must have enough energy to power internal heaters. The system—from the performance of its rotors in rarified air to its solar panels, electrical heaters, and other components—has been tested and retested in the vacuum chambers and test labs of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter chief engineer at JPL. “And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.”

Deploying the Helicopter

Before Ingenuity takes its first flight on Mars, it must be squarely in the middle of its airfield—a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) patch of Martian real estate chosen for its flatness and lack of obstructions. Once the helicopter and rover teams confirm that Perseverance is situated exactly where they want it to be inside the airfield, the elaborate process to deploy the helicopter on the surface of Mars begins.

“As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before,” said Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover. “Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn’t going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea what is going on.”

The helicopter deployment process will take about six sols (six days, four hours on Earth). On the first sol, the team on Earth will activate a bolt-breaking device, releasing a locking mechanism that helped hold the helicopter firmly against the rover’s belly during launch and Mars landing. The following sol, they will fire a cable-cutting pyrotechnic device, enabling the mechanized arm that holds Ingenuity to begin rotating the helicopter out of its horizontal position. This is also when the rotorcraft will extend two of its four landing legs.

During the third sol of the deployment sequence, a small electric motor will finish rotating Ingenuity until it latches, bringing the helicopter completely vertical. During the fourth sol, the final two landing legs will snap into position. On each of those four sols, the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager will take confirmation shots of Ingenuity as it incrementally unfolds into its flight configuration. In its final position, the helicopter will hang suspended at about 5 inches (13 centimeters) over the Martian surface. At that point, only a single bolt and a couple dozen tiny electrical contacts will connect the helicopter to Perseverance. On the fifth sol of deployment, the team will use the final opportunity to utilize Perseverance as a and charge Ingenuity’s six battery cells.

NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Prepares for First Flight
The debris shield, a protective covering on the bottom of NASA’s Perseverance rover, was released on March 21, 2021, the 30th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The debris shield protects the agency’s Ingenuity helicopter during landing; releasing it allows the helicopter to rotate down out of the rover’s belly. This image was taken by the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera on the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument, located at the end of the rover’s long robotic arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Once we cut the cord with Perseverance and drop those final 5 inches to the surface, we want to have our big friend drive away as quickly as possible so we can get the Sun’s rays on our solar panel and begin recharging our batteries,” said Balaram.

On the sixth and final scheduled sol of this deployment phase, the team will need to confirm three things: that Ingenuity’s four legs are firmly on the surface of Jezero Crater, that the rover did, indeed, drive about 16 feet (about 5 meters) away, and that both helicopter and rover are communicating via their onboard radios. This milestone also initiates the 30-sol clock during which time all preflight checks and flight tests must take place.

“Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test—we want to see if we can fly at Mars,” said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. “There are no science instruments onboard and no goals to obtain scientific information. We are confident that all the engineering data we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and aloft can be done within this 30-sol window.”

As with deployment, the helicopter and rover teams will approach the upcoming flight test methodically. If the team misses or has questions about an important preflight milestone, they may take one or more sols to better understand the issue. If the helicopter survives the first night of the sequence period on the surface of Mars, however, the team will spend the next several sols doing everything possible to ensure a successful flight, including wiggling the rotor blades and verifying the performance of the inertial measurement unit, as well as testing the entire rotor system during a spin-up to 2,537 rpm (while Ingenuity’s landing gear remain firmly on the surface).

The First Flight Test on Mars

Once the team is ready to attempt the first flight, Perseverance will receive and relay to Ingenuity the final flight instructions from JPL mission controllers. Several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance. Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second), the helicopter will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.

Several hours after the first flight has occurred, Perseverance will downlink Ingenuity’s first set of engineering data and, possibly, images and video from the rover’s Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z. From the data downlinked that first evening after the flight, the Mars Helicopter team expects to be able to determine if their first attempt to fly at Mars was a success.

On the following sol, all the remaining engineering data collected during the flight, as well as some low-resolution black-and-white imagery from the helicopter’s own Navigation Camera, could be downlinked to JPL. The third sol of this phase, the two images taken by the helicopter’s high-resolution color camera should arrive. The Mars Helicopter team will use all information available to determine when and how to move forward with their next test.

“Mars is hard,” said Aung. “Our plan is to work whatever the Red Planet throws at us the very same way we handled every challenge we’ve faced over the past six years—together, with tenacity and a lot of hard work, and a little Ingenuity.”

A Piece of History

While Ingenuity will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, the first powered, controlled flight on Earth took place Dec. 17, 1903, on the windswept dunes of Kill Devil Hill, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wright covered 120 feet in 12 seconds during the first flight. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, each longer than the previous.

A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first is now aboard Ingenuity. An insulative tape was used to wrap the small swatch of fabric around a cable located underneath the helicopter’s solar panel. The Wrights used the same type of material—an unbleached muslin called “Pride of the West”—to cover their glider and aircraft wings beginning in 1901. The Apollo 11 crew flew a different piece of the material, along with a small splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer, to the moon and back during their iconic mission in July 1969.


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NASA will attempt first off-world flight in early April


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NASA Ingenuity Mars helicopter prepares for first flight (2021, March 24)
retrieved 24 March 2021
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China launches second crewed mission to build space station

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China on Saturday launched a rocket carrying three astronauts – two men and one woman – to the core module of a future space station where they will live and work for six months, the longest orbit for Chinese astronauts.

A Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-13 spacecraft, which means “Divine Vessel”, blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu at 12:23 a.m. (1623 GMT on Friday).

The vessel successfully docked to the port of the space station on at 6:56 a.m. (2156 GMT), and the astronauts entered the space station’s core module at 10:03 a.m., the China Manned Space Agency said.

China began constructing the space station in April with the launch of Tianhe – the first and largest of the station’s three modules. Slightly bigger than a city bus, Tianhe will be the living quarters of the completed space station.

Shenzhou-13 is the second of four crewed missions needed to complete the space station by the end of 2022. During the first crewed mission https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/chinese-astronauts-return-after-90-day-mission-space-station-2021-09-17 that concluded in September, three other astronauts stayed on Tianhe for 90 days.

In the latest mission, astronauts will carry out tests of the key technologies and robotics on Tianhe needed to assemble the space station, verify onboard life support systems and conduct a host of scientific experiments.

The mission commander is Zhai Zhigang, 55, from China’s first batch of astronaut trainees in the late 1990s. Born to a rural family with six children, Zhai carried out China’s first spacewalk in 2008. Shenzhou-13 was his second space mission.

“The most challenging task will be the long-term stay in orbit for six months,” Zhai told a news conference on Thursday. “It will exact higher demands (on us), both physically and psychologically.”

He was accompanied by Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu, both 41.

Wang, also born to a rural family, is known among colleagues for her tenacity. The former air force pilot first travelled to space in 2013, to Tiangong-1, a prototype space lab.

She is China’s second female astronaut in space, following Liu Yang in 2012.

Shenzhou-13 is the first space mission for the third astronaut, Ye.

After the crew returns to Earth in April, China plans to deploy six more missions, including deliveries of the second and third space station modules and two final crewed missions.

China, barred by U.S. law from working with NASA and by extension on the International Space Station (ISS), has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own.

With the ISS set to retire in a few years, China’s space station will become the only one in Earth’s orbit.

China’s space programme has come far since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not even launch a potato into space. China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, in October 2003, following the former Soviet Union and the United States.

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Xihao Jiang; additional reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie and William Mallard)

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Meteorite found in B.C. could shed light on solar system's origin says physicist – Vancouver Sun

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Peter G. Brown, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario, says the meteorite made its fiery way to Earth on Oct. 3, after spinning out of its orbit in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, nearly 180 million kilometres away.

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LONDON, Ont. — A small, angular rock that one Canadian physicist says looks like a chunk of black cheese has the potential to help scientists understand how the early solar system formed.

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Peter G. Brown, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Western Ontario, says the meteorite made its fiery way to Earth on Oct. 3, after spinning out of its orbit in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, nearly 180 million kilometres away.

It tore through the roof of a home in Golden, B.C., narrowly missing the head a sleeping woman.

Brown says the woman has loaned the rock to the university and, for the next month or so, it will become “a small piece of a larger puzzle” as scientists “disentangle how the early solar system formed.”

He says the 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite is older than anything on Earth but is formed of minerals found here, like iron and nickel, although in much larger proportions, giving it unusual weight for a rock its size.

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The exact chemistry is still being studied, but Brown says the findings will link the rock to specific asteroids spinning beyond Mars, while his goal is to use photos of the Oct. 3 fireball to compute the meteorite’s orbit, then merge the chemical and physical data to track the rock’s origin.

It will eventually be returned to the woman whose roof it punctured, but Brown says it will first have given scientists a peek at how the asteroid belt formed, how asteroids evolved and how all that played a role in the formation of the planets.

A hole from a meteorite that fell through the roof of Ruth Hamilton’s home.
A hole from a meteorite that fell through the roof of Ruth Hamilton’s home. Photo by Ruth Hamilton /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“This piece is sort of a primitive piece of the original material that formed in the early solar system,” Brown says in an interview from his office in London, Ont.

“The sheer quantity of information that’s hidden in the rock that we can tease out, in a lot of ways it’s like a really, really dense messenger of information about the early solar system.”

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The recovery of this meteorite and the associated photos of its fireball over southwestern Canada are fairly rare, Brown says.

It happens only once every five or ten years, but he says the data produced will be combined with similar events elsewhere in the world.

“We are building up a bigger statistical collection of these sorts of samples with spatial context but each one is unique, and it certainly makes the meteorite science a lot more valuable to know what the original orbit was of the object.”

“We learn a lot of new things about the solar system each time we do this,” Brown says.

Initial analysis of the meteorite could take a few weeks to a month, but more detailed examination “could go on for years,” he says.

  1. A meteorite rests on Ruth Hamilton's bed after it crashed through her ceiling while she slept on Oct. 4.

    B.C. woman nearly hit by meteorite that crashed through bedroom ceiling: ‘I’ve never been so scared in my life’

  2. This map shows the area where dozens of small meteors likely landed in and around Golden B.C. on Oct. 3.

    Golden B.C. residents asked to search for dozens of small meteorites in and around their town

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Meteorite Hits Canadian Woman's Home – Snopes.com

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A Canadian woman had an exceedingly unlikely experience when a meteorite smashed through her roof and landed on her bed during a meteor shower on the night of Oct. 3, 2021.

Ruth Hamilton, a resident of Golden, British Columbia, told Canadian news outlet CBC on Oct. 12 that she had been sleeping during the meteor shower, just before midnight, when her dog woke her up by barking. It seems that her dog saved her life.

“The next thing was just a huge explosion and debris all over my face,” Hamilton told CBC.

Hamilton told various news outlets that the rock crashed through her roof and landed on her pillow, where her head normally rests. She was unharmed.

“I just jumped up and turned on the light, I couldn’t figure out what the heck had happened,” she told Victoria News, adding that she then called 911 and with the help of local authorities, determined that the only place the rock could have come from was above.

“I’m just totally amazed over the fact that it is a star that came out of the sky, It’s maybe billions of years old,” Hamilton stated.

Peter Brown, Canada Research Chair at Ontario’s Western University, told The Golden Star newspaper that the chances of a meteorite landing on someone’s home were 100 billion to one.

“Every meteorite is older than the oldest rocks on earth,” Brown told the Sun. “If we can study them, we can learn about how planets in the solar system formed.”

The 2.8-pound rock that crashed into Hamilton’s home was identified as part of the Oct. 3 meteor shower by Alan Hildebrand, a planetary scientist at the University of Calgary.

Scientists are asking area residents to contact them and submit any videos or pieces of meteorites that landed on the ground during the event, which was highly visible in the night sky, per the Vancouver Sun. The Sun reported the path of the event “tracked through central and southern Alberta and southeastern B.C. before making landfall in Golden.”


Sources:

Palmer, Claire. “B.C. Woman Awakes to a Hole in Her Roof and a Space Rock on Her Pillow.” Victoria News, 8 Oct. 2021, https://www.vicnews.com/news/b-c-woman-awakes-to-a-hole-in-her-roof-and-a-space-rock-on-her-pillow/.

Carrigg, David. “Golden B.C. Residents Asked to Search for Dozens of Small Meteorites in and around Their Town.” Vancouver Sun, 13 October 2021, https://vancouversun.com/news/golden-b-c-residents-asked-to-search-for-dozens-of-small-meteorites-in-and-around-their-town.

CBC. “Woman Rocked Awake by Meteorite Chunk Crashing into Her Bedroom | CBC News.” 12 October 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/meteorite-crashes-into-womans-bedroom-golden-bc-1.6207904.

Palmer, Claire. “Researcher Says Golden’s Meteor on the Pillow Was a 100 Billion to 1 Shot.” The Golden Star, 13 Oct. 2021, https://www.thegoldenstar.net/news/researcher-says-goldens-meteor-on-the-pillow-was-a-100-billion-to-1-shot/.

Neuman, Scott. “A Meteorite Crashes through a Home in Canada, Barely Missing a Woman’s Head.” NPR, 14 Oct. 2021. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2021/10/14/1045990641/meteorite-canada-british-columbia-bed.

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