Astronomy & Space

Mars Helicopter reveals it has ‘right stuff’ for crimson planet – Astronomy Now

April 1, 2019 • By

Because the Wright brothers first took to the skies of Kill Satan Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903, first flights have been vital milestones within the lifetime of any car designed for air journey. In spite of everything, it’s one factor to design an plane and make it fly on paper – or laptop. It’s fairly one other to place all of the items collectively and watch them get off the bottom.

In late January 2019, all of the items making up the flight mannequin (precise car going to the Crimson Planet) of NASA’s Mars Helicopter had been put to the check.

Weighing in at not more than four kilos (1.eight kilograms), the helicopter is a know-how demonstration undertaking at present going by the rigorous verification course of certifying it for Mars.

Nearly all of the testing the flight mannequin goes by needed to do with demonstrating the way it can function on Mars, together with the way it performs at Mars-like temperatures. Can the helicopter survive – and performance – in chilly temperatures, together with nights with temperatures as little as minus 130 levels Fahrenheit (minus 90 levels Celsius)?

All this testing is geared in direction of February 2021, when the helicopter will attain the floor of the Crimson Planet, firmly nestled underneath the stomach of the Mars 2020 rover. A couple of months later, will probably be deployed and check flights (as much as 90 seconds lengthy) will start – the primary from the floor of one other world.

“Gearing up for that first flight on Mars, we have logged over 75 minutes of flying time with an engineering model, which was a close approximation of our helicopter,” stated MiMi Aung, undertaking supervisor for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “But this recent test of the flight model was the real deal. This is our helicopter bound for Mars. We needed to see that it worked as advertised.”

Whereas flying helicopters is commonplace right here on Earth, flying lots of of tens of millions of miles (kilometres) away within the skinny Martian ambiance is one thing else solely. And creating the proper circumstances for testing right here on Earth presents its personal set of challenges.

NASA engineers examined the Mars Helicopter in a big vacuum chamber that simulated the martian surroundings. Picture: Picture: NASA

“The Martian atmosphere is only about one percent the density of Earth’s,” stated Aung. “Our test flights could have similar atmospheric density here on Earth – if you put your airfield 100,000 feet (30,480 meters) up. So you can’t go somewhere and find that. You have to make it.”

Aung and her Mars Helicopter crew did simply that in JPL’s House Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber. First, the crew created a vacuum that sucks out all of the nitrogen, oxygen and different gases from the air contained in the mammoth cylinder. Of their place the crew injected carbon dioxide, the chief ingredient of Mars’ ambiance.

“Getting our helicopter into an extremely thin atmosphere is only part of the challenge,” stated Teddy Tzanetos, check conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL. “To truly simulate flying on Mars we have to take away two-thirds of Earth’s gravity, because Mars’ gravity is that much weaker.”

The crew completed this with a gravity offload system – a motorised lanyard connected to the highest of the helicopter to supply an uninterrupted tug equal to two-thirds of Earth’s gravity. Whereas the crew was understandably involved with how the helicopter would fare on its first flight, they had been equally involved with how the gravity offload system would carry out.

“The gravity offload system performed perfectly, just like our helicopter,” stated Tzanetos. “We only required a 2-inch (5-centimetre) hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher. It was a heck of a first flight.”

The Mars Helicopter’s first flight was adopted up by a second within the vacuum chamber the next day. Logging a grand complete of 1 minute of flight time at an altitude of two inches (5 centimetres), greater than 1,500 particular person items of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminium, silicon, copper, foil and foam have confirmed that they will work collectively as a cohesive unit.

“The next time we fly, we fly on Mars,” stated Aung. “Watching our helicopter go through its paces in the chamber, I couldn’t help but think about the historic vehicles that have been in there in the past. The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and every Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there reminded me we are on our way to making a little chunk of space history as well.”