What does it take to construct a helicopter to fly on Mars?
For starters, you possibly can neglect the distant management. Mars is greater than 30 million miles away on a very good day, so the time delay in sending and receiving indicators means you could not fly the spacecraft with a joystick — you need to ship waypoints upfront from right here on Earth and hope for the very best.
It additionally must cost itself. And it has to have the ability to take off within the extremely skinny Martian environment (roughly 100 occasions thinner than Earth’s environment), which means the whole helicopter — together with photo voltaic panel, batteries, computer systems, rotors and touchdown gear — has to weigh lower than Four kilos. And the way do you check it in a simulated Martian setting? Nicely, you are going to need to design that course of from scratch as nicely.
It would sound like an not possible process, however that is precisely the problem that the staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory confronted in 2013 once they set about answering a query that had been tossed round NASA for many years: Can we fly a spacecraft on Mars? In July 2020, the, connected to the stomach of the . And in early 2021, because of the onerous work of the JPL staff, we could lastly see Ingenuity full its first check flight, changing into the primary plane to fly on one other world.
Watching the whole factor from again right here on Earth will probably be MiMi Aung, a 30-year veteran of JPL and the undertaking chief for the Ingenuity helicopter mission.
For Aung, the Mars helicopter expertise demonstration is an opportunity to discover the crimson planet from a complete special approach.
“I need to add an actual dimension to area exploration — that is what drove me,” she says. “We examine Mars with spacecraft in orbit. And we’ve rovers now on the floor that may rove. However we’re not utilizing the aerial dimension. Including that dimension was what drove me.”
The complete construct and design course of was an train in teamwork, troubleshooting and a continuing effort to cut back mass so the helicopter might really fly. The engineering staff established that the helicopter would wish twin rotors measuring Four toes (1.2 meters) to generate carry within the Martian environment and, in consequence, the whole physique couldn’t weigh greater than Four kilos (1.eight kilograms).
“Each self-discipline actually needed to come collectively and say, ‘Below this less-than-4-pound restrict, can we pack on this functionality of all of the computer systems, all of the rotor programs, all of the sensors, batteries, photo voltaic panels, touchdown gear, all of that — can all of them be packed in in an unprecedented means?” says Aung. “Everyone needed to pitch in and each gram was a problem.”
In Episode 5 of Making Space: The Female Frontier we go behind the scenes with Aung on the Ingenuity helicopter undertaking — from the grueling timelines and the push to construct a full-scale prototype in 11 months (“that was nuts,” says Aung) to the joys of seeing the helicopter take flight for the primary time and what is going to occur subsequent when it will get to Mars.
You’ll be able to hearken to the episode within the participant on the high of this story. Or seek for Making House: The Feminine Frontier in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you pay attention.