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Ingenuity was intended to fly up to five times during its 30-day test campaign scheduled early in the rover's mission. Primarily technology demonstrations, the flights were planned for altitudes ranging 3-5 m (10-16 ft) above the ground for up to 90 seconds each.Ingenuity, which can travel up to 50 m (160 ft) downrange and then back to the starting area, uses autonomous control during its short flights, which are telerobotically planned and scripted by operators at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It communicates directly with the Perseverance rover after each landing.
Ingenuity travelled to Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover, arriving at the Octavia E. Butler Landing site in Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. It deployed on April 3, 2021, and after unloading the drone Perseverance drove approximately 100 m (330 ft) away to allow it a safe "buffer zone" in which it made its first flight. On 19 April 2021 at 07:15 UTC, Ingenuity made its first takeoff, which was confirmed 3 hours later at 10:15 UTC, as seen in a livestreaming TV feed from JPL mission control.Ingenuity rose 3 m (9.8 ft) and hovered there for about 30 seconds before returning to the surface of Mars (with a total flight time of 39.1 seconds).
Ingenuity carries a piece of fabric from the wing of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Wright Brothers' airplane used in the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight on Earth. The initial take-off and landing area for Ingenuity is named Wright Brothers Field as a tribute. Before Ingenuity, the first flight of any kind on a planet beyond Earth was an unpowered balloon flight on Venus, by the Soviet Vega 1 spacecraft in 1985.
The expected lateral range was exceeded in the third flight, and the flight duration was exceeded in the fourth flight on April 30. With those technical successes, Ingenuity achieved its original objectives. NASA then planned more flights as operations demonstrations, hoping to show how future missions can work collaboratively. During its April 30, 2021 flight, Ingenuity also became the first interplanetary spacecraft whose sound was recorded by another interplanetary spacecraft, the Perseverance rover. On its May 7, 2021 flight, Ingenuity became the first interplanetary spacecraft which landed at a different place than the launch site. On June 15, 2021, the team behind Ingenuity was named the 2021 winner of the John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr. Award for Space Exploration from the Space Foundation.
Because the atmosphere of Mars is only about 1⁄100 as dense as that of Earth at surface level, it is much harder for an aircraft to generate lift, a difficulty only partially offset by Mars' lower gravity (about a third of Earth's). Flying close to Mars' surface has been described as equivalent to flying at more than 87,000 ft (27,000 m) above Earth, an altitude that has never been reached by existing helicopters. Made mostly of carbon dioxide, Mars' atmosphere requires blade rotation speeds of 2,400 rpm for Ingenuity to stay aloft, about five times what is needed on Earth.
Ingenuity is designed to be a technology demonstrator by JPL to assess whether this technology can fly safely, and provide better mapping and guidance that would give future mission controllers more information to help with travel routes planning and hazard avoidance, as well as identifying points of interest for the rover. The helicopter is designed to provide overhead images with approximately ten times the resolution of orbital images, and will provide images of features that may be occluded from the cameras of the Perseverance rover. It is expected that such scouting may enable future rovers to safely drive up to three times as far per sol.
The flight duration is not constrained by the available energy but by the waste heat that heats up the motors during flight at a rate of 1 K/s.
The helicopter uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with a Linux operating system. Among other functions, this processor controls the visual navigation algorithm via a velocity estimate derived from features tracked with a black-and-white downward-facing navigation camera containing an Omnivision OV7251 global-shutter sensor or horizon-facing terrain camera.
The Qualcomm processor is connected to two flight-control microcontroller units (MCUs) to perform the necessary flight-control functions. It also carries a cellphone grade Bosch BMI-160 IMU, a Murata inclination sensor SCA100T-D02 and a GarminLIDAR Lite v3 laser altimeter.
Communications with the rover are through a radio link using low-power Zigbeecommunication protocols, implemented via 914 MHz SiFlex 02 chipsets mounted in both the rover and helicopter. The communication system is designed to relay data at 250 kbit/s over distances of up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The helicopter employs a lightweight monopole antenna located on the solar panel of the helicopter used as a larger ground plane designed to communicate equally in all directions. Although much bulkier, the rover also carries a monopole antenna to communicate with the helicopter.
NASA's JPL and AeroVironment published the conceptual design in 2014 for a scout helicopter to accompany a rover. By mid 2016, US$15 million was being requested to keep development of the helicopter on track. By December 2017, engineering models of the vehicle had been tested in a simulated Martian atmosphere and models were undergoing testing in the Arctic, but its inclusion in the mission had not yet been approved nor funded. The United States federal budget, announced in March 2018, provided US$23 million for the helicopter for one year and it was announced on May 11, 2018 that the helicopter could be developed and tested in time to be included in the Mars 2020 mission. The helicopter underwent extensive flight-dynamics and environment testing, and was then mounted on the underside of the Perseverance rover in August 2019. Its mass is just under 1.8 kg (4.0 lb) and JPL has specified that it is planned to have a design life of five flights on Mars. NASA has invested about US$80 million to build Ingenuity and about US$5 million to operate the helicopter.
In April 2020, the vehicle was named Ingenuity by Vaneeza Rupani, a girl in the 11th grade at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama, who submitted an essay into NASA's "Name the Rover" contest. Known in planning stages as the Mars Helicopter Scout, or simply the Mars Helicopter, the nickname Ginny later entered use in parallel to the parent rover Perseverance being affectionately referred to as Percy.
Preliminary tests on Earth
In 2019, preliminary designs of Ingenuity were tested on Earth in simulated Mars atmospheric and gravity conditions. For flight testing, a large vacuum chamber was used to simulate the very low pressure of the atmosphere of Mars - filled with carbon dioxide to approximately 0.60% (about 1⁄160) of standard atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth - which is roughly equivalent to a helicopter flying at 34,000 m (112,000 ft) altitude in the atmosphere of Earth. In order to simulate the much reduced gravity field of Mars (38% of Earth's), 62% of Earth's gravity was offset by a line pulling upwards during flight tests. A "wind-wall" consisting of almost 900 computer fans was used to provide wind in the chamber.:1:08:05-1:08:40
Future Mars rover design iteration
The Ingenuity technology demonstrator could form the foundation on which more capable aircraft might be developed for aerial exploration of Mars and other planetary targets with an atmosphere. The next generation of rotorcraft could be in the range between 5 and 15 kg (11 and 33 lb) with science payloads between 0.5 and 1.5 kg (1.1 and 3.3 lb). These potential aircraft could have direct communication to an orbiter and may or may not continue to work with a landed asset. Future helicopters could be used to explore special regions with exposed water ice or brines, where Mars microbial life could potentially survive. Mars helicopters may also be considered for fast retrieval of small sample caches back to a Mars ascent vehicle for return to Earth such as the one to be launched in 2026.
After deployment, the rover drove approximately 100 m (330 ft) away from the drone to allow a safe flying zone. The Ingenuity helicopter was expected to fly up to five times during a 30-day test campaign, early in the rover's mission.
Ingenuity, fully deployed.
Each flight was planned for altitudes ranging 3-5 m (10-16 ft) above the ground. Operations Lead Tim Canham and Aung said the first flight would be a stationary hover at an altitude of 3 m (9.8 ft), lasting about 40 seconds and including taking a picture of the rover. Subsequent flights would be increasingly ambitious as allotted time for operating the helicopter dwindled.:0:24:49-0:25:29,1:22:21-1:22:55 JPL said the mission might even stop before the 30-day period ended, in the likely event that the helicopter crashed,:0:49:50-0:51:40 an outcome which did not occur. In up to 90 seconds per flight, Ingenuity could travel as far as 50 m (160 ft) downrange and then back to the starting area. The helicopter uses autonomous control during its flights, which are telerobotically planned and scripted by operators at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It communicates with the Perseverance rover directly after each landing.:1:20:38-1:22:20
After the successful first three flights, the objective was changed from technology demonstration to operational demonstration. The goal shifted towards supporting the rover science mission by mapping and scouting the terrain. While Ingenuity would do more to help Perseverance, the rover would pay less attention to the helicopter and stop taking pictures of it in flight. JPL managers said the photo procedure took an "enormous" amount of time, slowing the project's main mission of looking for signs of ancient life. On 30 April 2021, the fourth flight successfully captured numerous color photos and explored the surface with its black-and-white navigation camera. On May 7, Ingenuity successfully flew to a new landing site.
Ingenuity helicopter flight path and Perseverance traverse path showing their locations as of May 30, 2021. Live NASA link here
Perseverance dropped the debris shield protecting Ingenuity on March 21, 2021, and the helicopter deployed from the underside of the rover to the Martian surface on April 3, 2021. That day, the helicopter took its first color photo of the floor of Jezero Crater.
Ingenuity rotor blades were successfully unlocked on April 8, 2021 (mission sol 48) and it performed a low-speed rotor spin test. spinning at 50 rpm. A high-speed spin test was attempted on April 9, but failed due to the expiration of a watchdog timer, a measure to protect the helicopter from incorrect operation in unforeseen conditions. On April 12, a software update with a patch to correct the problem was announced. Since with an adapted command sequence there is an 85% chance that it will work correctly, the update was not used. On April 17, 2021, Ingenuity successfully passed the full-speed spin test. The test involved spinning its rotor blades, while still on the surface, up to full speed at around 2400 rpm for the first time on Mars. Two days after that test succeeded, JPL flew the helicopter for the first time.
The Ingenuity team plans to fly the helicopter every two to three weeks until the end of August, when Mars will move behind the Sun.
List of flights
Date (UTC) (Sol)
April 19, 2021, at 07:34 (Sol 58)
3 m (9.8 ft)
0 m (0 ft)
0 m/s (0 mph)
Vertical takeoff, stationary hover, land
The first powered flight by any aircraft on another planet. While hovering, it rotated in place 96 degrees in a planned maneuver. The black and white photographs it took of the ground directly below during flight confirmed success and were received at 11:30 UTC.
From its initial hover, it tilted 5 degrees, allowing the rotors to fly it 2 meters sideways. It stopped, hovered in place, and rotated counterclockwise, yawing from +90° to 0° to -90° to -180°, in 3 steps, to point its horizon-facing color camera in various directions to take photos. It flew back to its takeoff location at the center of the airfield and landed. Confirmation data began arriving at 13:20 UTC.
This was first flight to venture some distance from the helicopter's deployment spot and return. It flew downrange 50 meters, maintaining altitude and reaching a top speed of two meters per second. The downward-facing black and white navigation camera helped Ingenuity keep track of its position above the ground. It hovered at its destination, then flew back to the takeoff spot, hovered and landed. Data from the flight was received at 14:16 UTC.
Did not fly on first attempt, April 29, 2021 at 14:12. (Sol 68)Second attempt successful, April 30, 2021 at 14:49. (Sol 69)
The first attempt failed due to onboard software not transitioning to flight mode. Ingenuity flew on second try, maintaining altitude. It took black and white images for every 1.2 m (4 ft) while travelling between 84 m (276 ft) and 133 m (436 ft) and color images while hovering at its farthest point from takeoff. It made a record number of images, about 60 total, during the last 50 m (160 ft) before returning to its takeoff site to create a 3D map. On May 7 NASA confirmed the Perseverance rover recorded both audio and video of Ingenuity during the fourth flight, making the helicopter the first interplanetary spacecraft whose sound was heard and recorded by another interplanetary spacecraft.
Ingenuity, heard flying on Mars on its fourth flight
Hover, shift southwards, climb to 10 m (33 ft), hover, land at Airfield B
This was first flight to land at a new location. Ingenuity flew to a site 129 m (423 ft) to the south. On arrival, it gained altitude, hovered, captured a few high-resolution color images of area terrain and did not return to the departure point, but landed at that new site, Airfield B. This flight marked the end of the technology demonstration phase, which had the goal of proving an aircraft could fly on Mars.
The flight had a problem towards the end of the first leg, when a glitch in the navigation camera system caused all following images to be marked with incorrect timestamps. This resulted in the craft tilting forward and backward up to 20 degrees, with large spikes in power consumption. Ingenuity continued flying the next two legs in that mode and landed about 5 m (16 ft) away from the planned site, assumed as it's Airfield C. This was the first time it experienced an anomaly. The flight also was the first in the operation demonstration phase following the technology demonstration.
Collect color stereo imagery of a site of interest to help demonstrate the value of an aerial perspective for future missions.
First flight in which the helicopter landed at an airfield which it did not survey from the air during a previous mission.
^HiRISE's view of Ingenuitys fourth flight path paving the way for it to move to second airfield on its fifth flight
^This is an animated gif containing sequence of images on second test flight.
First image shows Ingenuitys rotor power during flight two.
Second image shows Ingenuitys horizontal position relative to start during flight one hover.
Third image shows Ingenuitys collective control during flight one.
Fourth image shows Ingenuitys lower cyclic control on flight one. Similar cyclic controls applied on the upper rotor.
Fifth image shows Ingenuitys estimate of vertical velocity during flight two.
^All images taken by Ingenuity are taken from black-and-white downward-facing navigation camera or horizon-facing terrain camera
^Ingenuity legs are seen clearly on the corners of the each image
^Perseverance Rover wheels are clearly seen in top corners
^ abPlease see the difference between the image on high-speed spin up test and the one on sol 48, that is the image on sol 48 has the upper blade in diagonal position while the high-speed spin up test has lower blade in diagonal position
^Bachman, Justin (19 April 2021). "Why flying a helicopter on Mars is a big deal". phys.org. Retrieved 2021. Indeed, flying close to the surface of Mars is the equivalent of flying at more than 87,000 feet on Earth, essentially three times the height of Mount Everest, NASA engineers said. The altitude record for a helicopter flight on Earth is 41,000 feet.