Agence France-PresseMay 3, 2021 11:09:52 AMT
Once the engine is proven, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter has new orders: a scout in front of Perseverance-Rover to help look for earlier signs of microbial life. The next step extends the role of the rotor vehicle beyond the original month-long technology demonstration. Now the goal is to assess how well flyers can help with future exploration of Mars and other worlds. “We are going to gather information on the helicopter’s operational support capability, while Perseverance will focus on its scientific mission,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told reporters on Friday.
Inquiry by ingenuity may one day prove useful for human tasks as well, as researchers look for the best paths to travel and reach places that are not otherwise possible.
The 1.8-kilogram mini-shredder successfully completed the fourth of its five originally planned flights on Friday, “I’m going farther and faster than ever before,” NASA tweeted.
The fifth is planned for the next few days, then its mission will be continued, initially by one Martian month.
Whether it continues after that depends on whether it is still in good condition and if it helps rather than hinder the driver’s goals of collecting soil and rock samples for future laboratory analysis of the Earth.
Chief Engineer Bob Balaram predicted as a limiting factor its ability to withstand the cold nights of Mars, where the temperature drops to -90 degrees Celsius.
Ingenuity keeps you warm with a solar-powered heater, but it’s only designed to last a month and engineers aren’t sure “how many freeze-thaw cycles (it) can go through before something breaks,” he said.
Originally, NASA thought that perseverance drove away from the place where it landed on the crater of Lake Jezero on February 18, just north of the planet’s equator.
It would have meant that the driver would have left ingenuity behind and moved out of the communications area.
Now, however, the agency wants to keep perseverance in the area for a while after finding a rocky bare, which they believe contains the oldest material on the crater floor.
They hope to collect the first sample in July.
The benefits of ingenuity have captured the public’s imagination since it made its first flight on April 19, but NASA said this was not a factor in its decision to allow the two robots to continue exploring Mars together.
“We really want to spend a significant amount of time where we are, so it’s kind of a random alignment,” said Perseverance project researcher Ken Farley.