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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday January 28 2021, @03:06PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the flying-drones-on-Mars dept.

NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars, but what for?:

NASA's mission to send another rover to Mars is set to culminate in a successful landing on February 18, 2021, but that's not all the agency is sending to the Red Planet.

The Perseverance rover – once it lands next month – will begin scouring a section of Mars that astronomers believe could have hosted and supported microbial life in the past.

But a second passenger aboard the lander vehicle will be meant to do something else entirely.

The Mars Helicopter – also known as Ingenuity – will deploy alongside the rover, and will be NASA's attempt at trying to achieve successful controlled flight on Mars for the very first time.

Ingenuity weighs only four pounds, and is described as a "small, but mighty passenger". Though it has a fuselage (main body) no bigger than a tissue box, it's supposedly strong enough to brave the harsh weather conditions on the planet during flight.

Started as a wishful project about six years ago, the engineers behind Ingenuity understood that while it was theoretically possible to fly in Mars' super-thin atmosphere, there was no real conviction that they'd be able to build a vehicle that could fly, communicate, and survive on its own on Mars.

But after rounds of research and testing, the team have managed to create a flying vehicle that has so far survived all tests emulating Mars' environment, and the next step is to make it fly on the Red Planet for real.


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First Flight on Mars? Ingenuity Helicopter Preps for Takeoff 92 comments

Salon has an article on Ingenuity.

In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew a plane for 12 seconds, 120 feet in the air, on what is now known as the first powered-controlled flight on Earth. Now, 118 years later, the first powered-controlled attempt at a flight on another planet is about to take place.

According to NASA, Ingenuity — the four-pound rotorcraft attached to Perseverance — is on its way to its "airfield" on Mars.

The space agency announced that its target for its first takeoff attempt will happen no earlier than April 8, 2021.

Ingenuity was designed as an experiment to see if it is possible to fly on Mars as we do here on Earth. And the process leading up to the takeoff is a very meticulous one. Consider how long it took humans to stick a powered-controlled flight on Earth; given Mars' thin atmosphere and a twenty-minute delay in communication, it is arguably more challenging on Mars.

"As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before," Farah Alibay, Mars helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover, said in a press statement. "Once we start the deployment there is no turning back."

Every move for the next couple of weeks could make or break Ingenuity's success — starting with precisely positioning the rotorcraft in the middle of its 33-by-33-foot square airfield, which is actually a flat field on the Martian surface with no obstructions. From there, the entire deployment process from Perseverance will take about six Martian days, which are called sols. (The Martian sol is thirty-nine minutes longer than an Earth day.)

Good luck, little chopper!

Previously:
NASA Lays Out Plans for its First Flights on Mars
How NASA Designed a Helicopter that Could Fly Autonomously on Mars
NASA is Sending a Helicopter to Mars, but What For?


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:08PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:08PM (#1106128)

    What for? You're asking me? Hmm, I'll go with... cookies. NASA is Sending a Helicopter to Mars... for cookies.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by DannyB on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:37PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:37PM (#1106144) Journal

      Helicopters are useful for following stolen, carjacked, or getaway vehicles on the Martian surface.

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      • (Score: 2) by bd on Thursday January 28 2021, @07:53PM

        by bd (2773) on Thursday January 28 2021, @07:53PM (#1106251)

        Fighting crime is just a cover. They are obviously searching for Elon's secret base...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @11:53PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @11:53PM (#1106359)

      Since this is the U.S. I'm going for illegal aliens.

  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:20PM (3 children)

    by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:20PM (#1106134) Journal

    Mars apparently has enough atmosphere to allow it to work, so it can be used to speed up exploration.

    Titan will be the real showcase for interplanetary aviation, as well as boats and submarines in the methane seas.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:35PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:35PM (#1106140)

      Ponies also.

    • (Score: 4, Touché) by DannyB on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:46PM

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:46PM (#1106153) Journal

      so it can be used to speed up exploration.

      You misspelled exploitation.

      Titan will be the real showcase for interplanetary aviation, as well as boats and submarines in the methane seas.

      The methane seize and atmosphere. On Titan, wouldn't the natives consider an explosive dangerous gas to be, oh my gosh, oxygen! You can even weld using compressed tanks of oxygen gas! Oxygen gas could be piped into homes to power furnaces and stoves, with a small pilot light.

      (with apologies to James P Hogan's Code of the Life Maker . . . ) On Titan, the capitol building is built out of really hard stone (h2O). But on the invaders' home planet, it is so hot that one wonders how life could even exist. It is so hot that the stone the capitol is built from would be molten liquid -- and they have entire oceans of this molten stone!

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Runaway1956 on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:27PM (6 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:27PM (#1106136) Homepage Journal

    The word "helicopter" implies a vehicle weighing at least half a ton, with one or more seats for a human to sit in, and some load carrying capacity in addition to that human.

    The word "drone" seems more fitting, in that we see the word routinely used to refer to small vehicles, weighing only grams or ounces in many cases. Many such vehicles carry nothing more than a miniature camera.

    Despite my word preference, this is as cool as cool can be, until we put people on Mars!

    --
    alles in Ordnung
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by looorg on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:43PM (2 children)

      by looorg (578) on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:43PM (#1106150)

      I was wondering along those lines. When I heard helicopter I imagined it being something future cosmonauts would ride around in. Not being the size of a tissue box. Does not even look much like a helicopter to me from the images, unless you consider what Da Vinci drew in his notebooks a helicopter and not an air-screw or something. So from the looks in the image I would say it's more of a drone then a helicopter. At 3:08 in the movie clip you can see it fly (or if its some kind of rendering I don't really know). Still thinking it's a drone from the looks of it and how it flies -- it's a box with four "legs" and two rotors on top. It looks more like it swings and dances around in the air, not really hovering like a 'copter. Shouldn't it have had a tail with another rotor in it to? Like most helicopters? But I guess these are smart people at NASA that created it and they should know but still Helicopter sounds wrong.

      I guess this is what Elon will use to shuttle and carry his drinks as he walks around as Emperor of Mars -- so his cocktails are shaken, not stirred.

      • (Score: 2) by looorg on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:46PM

        by looorg (578) on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:46PM (#1106154)

        (edit) Apparently I can't count at a glance, three rotors not two.

      • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Friday January 29 2021, @05:03PM

        by Freeman (732) on Friday January 29 2021, @05:03PM (#1106634) Journal

        Drone would have been a bit more helpful, but then people would have been thinking "quadcopter". Helicopter drone, might have been a better description.

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    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @09:19PM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @09:19PM (#1106289)

      The word "helicopter" implies a vehicle weighing at least half a ton, with one or more seats for a human to sit in,

      No, it doesn't, you idiot, Runaway! Shut up, and sit down. Drones carry missiles for use in extra-judicial targeted killings.

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Thursday January 28 2021, @09:47PM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 28 2021, @09:47PM (#1106299) Homepage Journal

        Dumbass - drones are going to carry your Amazon purchases to your house, and drop them down the chimney so that you die in your sleep of carbon monoxide poisoning.

        --
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    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Freeman on Friday January 29 2021, @04:59PM

      by Freeman (732) on Friday January 29 2021, @04:59PM (#1106633) Journal

      The most standard version of the vehicle definitely brings that to mind, but there are deviations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backpack_helicopter [wikipedia.org].

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  • (Score: 2) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:54PM (9 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Thursday January 28 2021, @04:54PM (#1106156)

    They're just spending taxpayers' money on preliminary studies, only to drop everything at the next presidential election. They've been doing that since the end of the Apollo program. Nothing new...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @05:20PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @05:20PM (#1106168)

      And yet, numerous american Mars landers have made it to the red planet in the last several decades, most of which exceeding their expected lifespan. One of them is still operational as we speak, and is being actively supported by NASA. There has been numerous administration changes during those decades, and none of them significantly affected the science missions of these landers.

      Cynicism doesn't make you look smarter. Quite the contrary, actually.

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Thursday January 28 2021, @10:32PM

        by HiThere (866) on Thursday January 28 2021, @10:32PM (#1106318) Journal

        Well, to be fair lots of missions have had the scientific goals changed or even the existence terminated when an administration changed.

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29 2021, @06:26AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29 2021, @06:26AM (#1106495)

        Basically they have four years to spend so much money that the next asshole-in-chief can't cancel it without looking like an idiot.

    • (Score: 2) by fakefuck39 on Thursday January 28 2021, @08:12PM (2 children)

      by fakefuck39 (6620) on Thursday January 28 2021, @08:12PM (#1106256)

      Right. They're spending taxpayer money on something taxpayers want it spent on. A vehicle that moves faster than a rover, can fly over mountains, and speed up exploration. These taxpayers are higher educated than you, make more than you, and want their money spent on this drone. What's been going on from the times of moon landings, with many presidents and political parties changing. It's almost like science is science and not a political issue.

      • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Thursday January 28 2021, @08:50PM (1 child)

        by PartTimeZombie (4827) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 28 2021, @08:50PM (#1106281)

        According to the idiot A/C in another thread, science is religion now.

        Presumably this drone will be used to bring the Good Word ™ to the Martians.

        • (Score: 2) by Socrastotle on Friday January 29 2021, @08:08AM

          by Socrastotle (13446) on Friday January 29 2021, @08:08AM (#1106518) Journal

          Objecting to the 'religionification' of science, is not objecting to science. It's the exact opposite because the 'religionification' of science is the exact opposite of science. Science, at its best, is driven by extreme criticism, critique, and debate. And without bounds. The 'religionification' of science that people refer to is when people begin to take certain issues and treat them as above criticism, or to work to aggressively destroy any critique (or even more dangerously - critiquers themselves), regardless of its merit.

          It's akin to what happened with the heliocentric/geocentric universe. The consensus of the time was that Earth was the center of the universe. And interestingly enough factually disproving this without telescopes, and ideally space based telescopes, is nearly impossible. The geocentric view can be supported by a model that requires accepting really weird things (like planets such as Mercury being able to suddenly turn around and start 'revolving around the Earth' in the opposition direction), but is otherwise mostly consistent. You can even predict what and when you'll see various bodies in the sky; it is, at least broadly speaking, predictive.

          And so for 1500 years the geocentric model was held up and not just by religion as we like to imagine, but by the best and brightest astronomers of each age. And a big part of the reason is that challenging the notion of geocentricism essentially became taboo. When you're a young and upcoming scientist deciding what you want to study, you probably are not going to pick a topic whose very investigation is like to see you blacklisted and face severe consequences. Yet without these people being able to comfortably challenge the consensus, it enables bad ideas to persist far longer than they should supported by a farcical unanimity.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @11:58PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28 2021, @11:58PM (#1106360)

      Mars, Mars, Mars, Mars.... am I the only one sick of fucking Mars? They go to Mars because it's fucking easy. Well, comparatively easy.

      Want to impress me and actually learn some new science? Put a lander on Venus. Sure it won't last long, but you'll learn something new. Better than visiting Mars over and over and over and over.

      Hell, put a lander on the backside of Mercury. That'd be something. Better than more Mars. Do these fucks* want to learn new science or just keep their damn jobs? Is it the administration of NASA playing it safe to curry favor with the dumbfuck Congress they have to beg money from?

      *admittedly smart fucks
       

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29 2021, @04:12AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29 2021, @04:12AM (#1106467)

        Mars, Mercury... same shit. Get over it, it's some rocks "IN SPACE". Guess what else is rocks in space? Earth, motherfucker. Get used to living on it.

      • (Score: 2) by Socrastotle on Friday January 29 2021, @08:14AM

        by Socrastotle (13446) on Friday January 29 2021, @08:14AM (#1106520) Journal

        Venera 7 [wikipedia.org]. The Soviets put a lander on Venus in 1970. Venera 14 would even send back sound from the surface of Venus that can you listen to [youtube.com] today. Pretty neat stuff.

        The reason Mars is the focus is because Mars will be the first destination for human colonization. And it's happening far sooner than most realize. Collecting as much data as you can before sending large scale machines, and ultimately men, 40 million miles away is a pretty good investment of energy and time.

  • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Thursday January 28 2021, @05:17PM (6 children)

    by Freeman (732) on Thursday January 28 2021, @05:17PM (#1106165) Journal

    I mean, why else would they be doing it? There's no current practical application for helicopter than fly on mars. So, it's gotta be from a more purely science driver aspect. Or the whole "Tower of Babel" concept all over again. I get a lot of people have the, get us off this rock concept going. Some of us are on for the ride, because it's cool.

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    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Thursday January 28 2021, @05:20PM (5 children)

      by Freeman (732) on Thursday January 28 2021, @05:20PM (#1106167) Journal

      *brain not caffeinated* "no current practical application for a helicopter that can fly on mars."

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      • (Score: 2) by Socrastotle on Friday January 29 2021, @06:53AM (4 children)

        by Socrastotle (13446) on Friday January 29 2021, @06:53AM (#1106502) Journal

        There's very real applications. This [spaceflightinsider.com] article has some images showing what the tread on Curiosity's wheels now look like. Suffice to say they're getting ripped, and not in a good way. You might respond 'Well, but that's after years of wear and tear - it's to be expected.' Except those "years of wear and tear" have only resulted in the rover moving (at the time of the image in the article) fewer than 10 miles. In the near decade since it's landed on Mars, it's only managed to move about 14 miles. And those treads are pure aluminum mind you - no Firestone blowouts here.

        That's a blistering pace of about 0.0003 miles per hour. For contrast, a snail moves about 10x faster. The rover's top theoretical speed is about 0.09 mph which is a lot faster, but the point is that our rover isn't really made for roving. Early applications for the copter will be things like finding optimal paths for the rover (to avoid wear and tear), as well as identifying points points of interest for the rover to go check out. But in the longrun you could have a lander where the helicopter *is* the rover and able to cover much greater distances with much more effective discovery.

        Or we could sidestep all of this, improve human spaceflight tech, and start getting people on these planets who will be able to accomplish more in a week than billion dollar rovers will be able to in decades.

        • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Friday January 29 2021, @04:54PM (3 children)

          by Freeman (732) on Friday January 29 2021, @04:54PM (#1106632) Journal

          Ah, I was assuming that any "practical application" meant something useful here on Earth. As anything sent to Mars isn't really a "practical application" in my mind. Unless we learn something that helps us here. The entire reason for going to Mars is either purely scientific or someone's pipe dream that we "get off this rock". No part of "going to Mars" screams "practical" in my mind. Thus, my whole "no practical applications" for sending a helicopter to Mars. Some sort of helicopter and/or drone on Mars could be very interesting. Would cover much greater distances than the slow rovers we've sent and will likely fail, much, much sooner than any of the rovers we've sent. Excluding anything that may have had serious problems with a sudden impact on arrival.

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          • (Score: 2) by Socrastotle on Friday January 29 2021, @06:31PM (2 children)

            by Socrastotle (13446) on Friday January 29 2021, @06:31PM (#1106656) Journal

            Everything revolutionary seems like a pipe dream, because it revolutionary change sounds irrational. I'll make an assumption that you, like I, lived through the birth of the internet. Can you imagine if somebody described what we've seen happen 30 years ago? Do you remember the first time you saw a company use an email address on TV (alongside their phone number)? It was kind of a neat feeling, but it also just felt kind of gimmicky. Even at that point, to suggest that the entire world would imminently end up online, with the world dominated by the corporations built around dominating the internet (and the people on it); all of this would just sound like some sort of weird cyberpunk 'pipe dream' that nobody would ever want to have. Turns out it's a lot more boring than it'd sound, but whatever. It did happen.

            Or just go about 30 years back before that. And can you imagine the notion of somebody suggesting that these room sized "automatic calculating machines" would eventually be scaled down to the size of a pack of candy, made millions of times more powerful, and become so cheap that they'd be in just about everything, everywhere? Again this sort of stuff just doesn't sound very reasonable.

            And interplanetary colonization will be, by far, the biggest revolution our species has ever experience. And really it may ultimately be the biggest revolution our species will ever experience - period. Because it basically means we've opened the door to the universe, the door to infinity. Right now there's no technical limitation preventing us from colonizing Mars besides price efficient rocket technology to get the quantities of stuff (and people) needed to make it there. And that technology is imminently on its way. From there it's just a Venn Diagram. There are the people that would be interested/willing to go to Mars, and those that would be able to afford to go to Mars. Both circles there will increase in size over time since it becoming 'real' will spur on more interested colonists, and technology improving + economy of scale = it becomes cheaper to go. So long as the intersection of these is some magic number, Mars colonization happens.

            I suppose my thing here is I don't see an informed argument for Mars colonization not happening.

            • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Friday January 29 2021, @08:36PM (1 child)

              by Freeman (732) on Friday January 29 2021, @08:36PM (#1106692) Journal

              The major hurdle to a serious Mars colony is self-sustainability or possibly cheap-enough non-sustainability. An island like Hawaii, can't possibly feed as many people that are living on it, without imports. Thus, a Mars colony could be sustainable in a similar fashion, if the imports aren't too expensive. Here's a big difference between Hawaii and Mars, though. Hawaii is essentially what we term a Tropical Paradise. Mars is an uninhabitable desert planet. Mars has no breathable atmosphere, very little in the way of usable materials (as far as we know), possible ice/water in some form somewhere, is much more exposed to radiation from space, and is a giant desert. Nearly any place on Earth would be cheaper to live, than on Mars. One big thing that Mars does have going for it is the lack of local government and native populations. Thus, the first people that can get there and do something with it, could possibly make out like bandits. Assuming that Mars colonization ever happens. Elon Musk is making more progress than anyone else has for the last 50 years or more, but SpaceX is one company and he is one man.

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              • (Score: 2) by Socrastotle on Saturday January 30 2021, @05:26PM

                by Socrastotle (13446) on Saturday January 30 2021, @05:26PM (#1106912) Journal

                *Why* can't Hawaii feed itself? The answer in the most general terms is because their land available for agriculture is less than what is necessary to feed their population. Mars will, likely even for decades after its establishment, have a relatively small population with a land surface area nearly identical to the entire land surface area of the Earth. So you go from intractable problem: "not enough land", to a technical one: "can you grow food in contained environments, and can you set these environments up in a hostile planet". And the answer to both questions is yes.

                One issue the protagonist in "The Martian" had to overcome was, like you mentioned, finding water. And so he pulled some MacGyver magic, but only because the author of the book was not privy to a recent major discovery [space.com]. The Martian "desert" yields around around a liter of water per cubic foot of soil. And there is also extensive direct evidence [wikipedia.org] of a diverse range of abundant mineral resources on Mars.

                I think the biggest practical thing is something you hit on. Life on Mars will not be easy, at all. So you basically have colonists who will need to have found success on Earth (or find sponsorship from a company/government, which is going to trigger America because there will 100% be indentured labor), willing to give it all up to go live a less than pleasant life - all for the sake of achieving something that they will not live anywhere near long enough to see through to completion. But I think in a world of 8 billion, there's more than enough nutters along the lines of myself more than happy to take that "deal". And one thing's for certain - you'll definitely meet some interesting folks there!

  • (Score: 2) by oumuamua on Thursday January 28 2021, @07:13PM

    by oumuamua (8401) on Thursday January 28 2021, @07:13PM (#1106225)
  • (Score: 2) by Socrastotle on Friday January 29 2021, @06:27AM

    by Socrastotle (13446) on Friday January 29 2021, @06:27AM (#1106497) Journal

    "Though it has a fuselage (main body) no bigger than a tissue box, it's supposedly strong enough to brave the harsh weather conditions on the planet during flight."

    Mars does not have harsh weather conditions. I think many people get this from "The Martian" where a catastrophic dust storm completely wrecked a local base setting the stage for the whole movie. That was one of the few parts of the book/movie that was completely and intentionally faked. The reason is, ironically, described in the article itself. Mars has a super-thin atmosphere. The most vicious of dust storms on Mars would feel like a slight breeze. The real challenge is is actually flying in that limited atmosphere! Think about the difference between trying to swim in water versus trying to swim in alcohol. Though something else neat is that the 4 pound craft will only weigh about 1.5 pounds on Mars.

    It's telling that a sci-fi book that tried to be as factually accurate as possible ultimately intentionally gave way to fantasy just to create a catastrophic scenario on a Mars base!

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