back to article Ingenuity Mars Helicopter cleared for further, farther, flying after landing on 117-second fourth flight

NASA is so pleased with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter's performance that it will devise a new “operations demonstration phase” in which the craft will be tasked with “exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.” The decision to define a new mission came ahead of …

  1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Softly, Softly

    Proper Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance ..... Bravo, Encore!

    1. NoneSuch
      Thumb Up

      Re: Softly, Softly

      Typically followed by "Hey hold my beer and watch this!"

      1. Wexford

        Re: Softly, Softly

        I'd love to see a final* mission named Hold My Beer to really stretch its remaining capabilities.

        * at its apparent End Of Life - batteries no longer charging, hardware starting to fail etc.

  2. tfb Silver badge
    Boffin

    I've never been so happy to be wrong

    In some earlier comment I said that it was unlikely that Ingenuity's mission would be extended because it would get in the way of the scientific tasks that Perseverance was put there for. Well, I was wrong, which is great!

    1. jake Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

      As I replied to that old post of yours:

      However, NASA is well known for over-engineering systems that continue to work well past their sell-by date ... and then managing to beg/steal/borrow enough budget to continue doing science well after the planned end of mission. Whether or not it happens in this case is anyone's guess. If I were a betting man (I'm not), my money would be on NASA making several dozen more flights than originally planned. If it still works, it is a truly unique opportunity, so why not?

      No, there isn't a bandwidth issue, and no, it's not going to damage the rover unless some dumb-ass manages to do a fly-by and screws the pre-programmed flight path up ... which is unlikely to say the least. MarsLab doesn't hire cowboys.

      Lift a beer to the little chopper that could ... and still can, for a while at least :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

        "[...] pre-programmed flight path [...] "

        How does it navigate?

        No GPS - and not sure if there is a directional magnetic field on Mars. Does it play Hansel and Gretel by establishing visual way points en route? Dead reckoning is presumably subject to wind drift and rotor torque.

        1. tfb Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

          Pretty much, yes: it watches the ground under it and does some feature extraction to build a model of where it is.

          1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

            Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

            I thought it must have a basic inertial navigation system too. Although as it is supposed to be in contact with Perseverance maybe it has a bearing which it can also use to determine a direction to a known fixed point.

            1. tfb Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

              Yes, sorry it has an IMU as well. There is a good video on this (I'm not sure of it's provenance: pretty sure the person speaking is Bob Balaram however, who is the chief engineer for Ingenuity at JPL).

        2. Swiss Anton

          Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

          I suspect that it probably uses some solid state accellerometers and rate gyroscopes, much like the ones in my mobile phone. Its a simple enough job to integrate their outputs to get a measure of distance travelled in the X,Y & Z directions. Since the flights are so short, the cumaliative measurement errors will be tiny.

        3. Bill Michaelson

          Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

          Presumably by combining multiple mechanisms and cross-checking. But even onsumer drones have optical flow capabilities. IMUs use accelerometers and gyros. Perhaps the ground rover can also provide a supplemental navigational beacon. Astronomical references can aid in orientation in combination with time. All integrated.

      2. tfb Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

        Like I said I'm glad to be wrong. But, please don't repeat uninformed rubbish about bandwidth.

        Curiosity, which has the same peak bandwidth for communication via relay, the same computing facilities, and is sharing the same relays as Perseverance, can downlink up to 250Mb per relay pass and I believe there are typically two passes per Sol. So 500Mb/Sol, or 50MB/Sol. Let's assume Perseverance has some special magic which doubles that, so it can downlink 100MB/Sol.

        Individual colour frames from Ingenuity's colour camera are 15MB as PNGs, and I couldn't get any useful compression of them. Let's say again they have some magic thing which can get them down to 7.5MB/frame (they obviously will not want to be compressing them lossily if they can avoid it). So they could in principle downlink roughly 13 frames/Sol. But to do that they have to use all of the bandwidth they have: no science data makes it back, at all.

        In other words, downlinking a single colour frame from Ingenuity per Sol is 7.5% of all the bandwidth the mission has. There's a reason we've seen so few colour frames from Ingenuity.

        (The navcam frames are much smaller (~100-150kB), which is why we have seen so many more of them.)

        So, well, do the math, as the person says.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: I've never been so happy to be wrong

          It doesn't matter. Really. It's not like milking a cow or harvesting corn. We don't need the telemetry right now, this instant. Mañana will do nicely. Relax, have a homebrew, take forty winks, the data will still be valid after lunch.

          And no, Perseverance won't be slowed down by the chopper tagging along ... consider that the Curiosity rover has averaged a tick under 13 inches per day. I'll be shocked if Perseverance even doubles that. Pick an LZ, hop ahead, send two-three pics and a status report home, and then wait for further instructions. Lather, rinse, repeat ... until something interesting pops up that would benefit from air support.

          Honestly, kids these days ... short attention span, and always in a hurry.

          Space Available Mail for APO/FPO ... does it still exist? Does anybody care?

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    The New Scientist had the news of the extension of Ingenuity's mission a few days ago:

    "The mission was planned to include only five flights before the Perseverance rover drove away and began its own primary missions of searching for signs of ancient life and collecting samples to be returned to Earth. However, NASA officials announced on 30 April that Ingenuity will travel alongside Perseverance, capturing aerial images that could help the rover scout potential routes and scientifically interesting areas nearby.

    Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2276387-nasas-ingenuity-helicopter-has-made-its-fourth-and-furthest-flight/#ixzz6tbnogVSS"

    Excellent news that a space drone thingy made partly with commercial-off-the-shelf parts is lasting long enough for a mission extension.

  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Happy

    Lifetime extended?

    Going By NASA's past performance it'll probably last about 2 years

    1. DaveN007

      Re: Lifetime extended?

      I wonder how NASA bonuses are structured. There seems to be a fair amount of sand bagging going on.

    2. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Going By NASA's past performance it'll probably last about 2 years

      If they send another one up there on the next mission, what's the betting the two will find each other and start breeding?

  5. TedF

    Fast re-charging

    I'm impressed that the footling solar panel stuck on top (like an after-thought) can actually recharge its batteries fairly quickly.

    1. Robert Sneddon

      Re: Fast re-charging

      There isn't a lot of cloud on Mars and the atmosphere is thin so the sunlight that gets to the solar panel isn't attenuated as much as it would be on Earth. Saying that Mars is a lot further from the Sun and the actual intensity of sunlight there is less than half that at the top of Earth's atmosphere.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Fast re-charging

      It not that it's an after thought, rather it's because there is no weight budget for decorative bezels, facias, moldings and the like. Even paint and decals are too heavy for this kind of thing at this time, thus no American flags, mission patches, NASA logos and other useless advertising.

      Personally, I think it's beautifully minimalistic.

  6. John Doe 12

    Nighttime Landings

    "the first time a US mission has landed in the dark since 1968"

    Apart from many Space Shuttle landings including the very last one. I know this comment is meant to relate to landing at sea but personally I find it very much open to interpretation the way it's written.

    1. DarkwavePunk

      Re: Nighttime Landings

      Now I have an image in my head of a Space Shuttle skimming across the sea like a skipping-stone over a pond. That'd be some ride! I should drink less booze.

      1. John Doe 12

        Re: Nighttime Landings

        Well at the risk of lots of downvotes I guess you could argue that Challenger made a daytime splashdown into the sea.

        1. Wexford

          Re: Nighttime Landings

          Well at the risk of lots of downvotes I guess you could argue that Challenger made many daytime splashdowns.

  7. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    To infinity and beyond

    While, like many of us (as well as the boffins), I was worried about the initial failure of flight four to launch. After patching the software (and turning it off and turning it on again) the boffins, in the ultimate WFH feat, have not only got Ingenuity back on track but have extended those tracks across Mars. The ingenuity of using Ingenuity as eyes in the sky for Perseverance highlights NASA's tradition of using what equipment you have to do more than it was even intended to do.

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: To infinity and beyond

      There wasn't a patch related to flight four. They discovered before the first flight that there was a timing issue,which they decided not to patch (I think because pushing completely new flight software was sufficiently terrifying) but rather adjust the command sequences so there's something like a 15% chance of hitting a timer during spin-up, which means they need to try again another day. That's what they hit for flight four, and they fid then try again and it was fine. Wnd they'll keep hitting this every few flights, and that's fine.

  8. ZanzibarRastapopulous Silver badge

    Nothing there.

    There's still nothing there.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Nothing there.

      Seriously, what is your problem?

    2. Julz Silver badge

      Re: Nothing there.

      What would be something?

      1. ZanzibarRastapopulous Silver badge

        Re: Nothing there.

        > What would be something?

        Go on, give it a bash.

    3. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Nothing there.

      Please define your idea of 'nothing'. Those images look pretty full of 'things' to me.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Nothing there.

        They are just like the rocks in it's head ... thus, nothing.

  9. 0laf Silver badge

    I'm sure NASA always had a part 2 in their back pocket if things went as well as they'd hoped.

    After all Ingenuity could have tipped over and broken a rotor before it ever left the ground.

    It's always a delight when these top boffins contraptions exceed expectations.

    Fingers crossed they get some good work out of it before the dust and cold wins the day as it inevitably must.

    1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Danger! Low Flying Drone!

      If the cold doesn't get it, the wind might. The speed of dust storm winds on Mars is about 60mph* maximum. These can envelop the entire planet. I'm guessing that Ingenuity, if still operational when the next ones are due, will be moved as far away from Perseverance as possible to avoid any prospect of a collision in the event of an unplanned and unguided flight.

      With rotors so large and low weight I wonder what wind speed would lift it off the Martian surfaces, or just blow it along. The impact of a mass of over 1.8Kg travelling 60mph would not be good for Perseverance.

      * https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/the-fact-and-fiction-of-martian-dust-storms

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