back to article On a dusty red planet almost 290 million km away... NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flies

NASA's Ingenuity today hovered in the skies of Mars making the equipment the first human-made helicopter to take flight on another planet. Amid cheers in the control room, engineers confirmed the diminutive helicopter had spun up its rotors, taken off, landed, and spun everything down, leaving the stage set for further tests. …

  1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Pint

    Well done!

    Excellent news. The whole team deserves a pint and hearty congratulations.

    I see that it will stay within 100m of Perseverance to ensure communications. Lets hope it lasts as far beyond its design life as the other superbly engineered rovers.

    Congratulations all round.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Well done!

      I understand that once the Ingenuity testing program is over, Perseverance will return to its primary mission. Unfortunately I don't think it will survive very long after being powered down.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Boffin

        Re: Well done!

        It may well be able to survive for a while (until the batteries get tired enough that they can't hold enough charge to keep it warm overnight and/or until enough crud accumulates on the solar panel), but unless it is close to Perseverance it's an orphan, and no-one will hear it die.

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Well done!

        Pretty sure the NSA has installed code on the copter to track the location of the rover, just in case the rover gets ideas beyond its station.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Well done!

          Umm, Perseverance is the one with the laser, so if the NSA is worried about anything 'going rogue' it is probably Ingenuity, not Persey.

          Of course we don't know whether the FBI have logged on to either of them to remove those nasty malware thingies* the federal judge said they could delete...

          (https://www.theregister.com/2021/04/14/fbi_exchange_server_malware_deletion/ )

          *I do hope I'm not being too technical for you ;o)

      3. HildyJ Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Well done!

        I wonder if a subsequent flight might fly over Perseverance to try to blow some of the dust off of its solar cells which, last I read, were under performing.

        Whatever happens from here, I'm just space nerded out. A pint seems too little, maybe a Kitty Hawk Growlers to Go for the boffins.

        BTW a short clip of the actual flight from Perseverance's mast camera is at:

        https://mars.nasa.gov/resources/25828/first-video-of-nasas-ingenuity-mars-helicopter-in-flight/

        1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: Well done!

          Perseverance, like Curiosity before it, is nuclear powered. Even if it was solar powered, that's a manoeuvre far too risky to consider!

          1. Peter X

            Re: Well done!

            I wonder if Ingenuity's own solar panel will be kept cleanish by the rotors?

    2. 0laf
      Pint

      Re: Well done!

      I'd echo the comments above wholeheartedly.

      Well done to all involved and I have my fingers crossed it is able to greatly extend its design parameters.

    3. UCAP Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Well done!

      I would also like to echo the congratulations. Remember, it only took 40 years to go from the Wright brothers to jet engines, so who knows what will be flying across Mars (and the other planets) in 40 years time.

      1. Mage
        Alien

        Re: took 40 years to go from the Wright brothers to jet engines

        Um, less.

        There were Jet engines before WII and also a Liquid Oxygen-Hydrogen rocket motor was tested in the early 1930s.

        OTOH, the LAST manned Moon landing was nearly 50 years ago.

        It's a good achievement and indeed it's impossible to say what will be happening in 40 years time.

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Well done!

      Double Squee! I dont know quite why but this gives me a buzz I haven't had since the first moon landing.. I do hope they dont get bored with it and drop it after 30 days. It got to be one of the best ways of exploring the area around the rover and may indeed stop the dog treading in some shit and losing a claw.

      1. UCAP Silver badge

        Re: Well done!

        Ingenuity is a tech demo aimed at proving that it is possible to build a drone that can fly on Mars. Basically it has proved that now, so NASA could move on. As it happens they want to try some additional flights with longer flight distances, perhaps as far as a couple of hundred metres, but sadly are not planning to use Ingenuity beyond the 30 day limit. It only carries a couple of fixed-direction cameras; no other science payload at all, so it has limited utility.

        Saying that, if it is still health after 30 days and the batteries have enough capacity, it would not surprise me if someone in NASA decided to use it as some form of scout, at least until it finally failed.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Well done!

          Hopefully if it does last in a flyable condition after 30 days they will see just how much longer that hardware configuration can survive the extremes of heat and cold and radiation. The article says they used off-the-shelf components not hardened for use in such a harsh environment, so finding out how long they last could be useful.

          Of course if it could be a danger to Persey then they will have to shut it down.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Boffin

          Re: Well done!

          I think (although I'd like to be wrong) that they pretty much can't. It needs to stay near Perseverance, and keeping it near it means flying frequently, and that eats bandwidth, which is a scarce resource. But I'd like to be wrong, as I said.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Well done!

            Perhaps it could land on top?

            1. Spherical Cow

              Re: Well done!

              Attempting a landing on top risks damaging the rover.

              1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

                Re: Well done!

                Sadly the images from the landing of the rover on the Martian surface show that the NASA boffins forgot the helipad:

                https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap210220.html

          2. Peter X

            Re: Well done!

            As I understand it, the bandwidth issue was between Perseverance and Ingenuity and probably that's only a problem when downloading "big" data like video/photos from the cameras, whereas (I'm guessing here) that the commands and telemetry data are easier to manage?

            In part, I suppose I'm just hoping the above is true! If it is, then (hopefully) Ingenuity can be kept within range of Perseverance simply to (1). give data as to the longevity of it's components, and (2). allow the potential of using it's cameras to look a little further ahead than Perseverance can on it's own.

            Finger crossed! :)

    5. hoola Silver badge

      Re: Well done!

      Remarkable when you think how hostile the environment is.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. DarkwavePunk
    Pint

    Watched it as the feed came in from the NASA site. Pretty amazing stuff when you think about it. Loved seeing all the views of the shell console stuff (nerdy I know), but seeing the telemetry data on the graph and the first image(s) was awesome. The reaction from the boffins was nice too. So glad it made its baby hop successfully.

    3 hours for information to come back? They must have trained on a remote VMWare console if my experience is anything to go by! </joke>

    Beer for Boffins as always -->

  4. heyrick Silver badge
    Coat

    we’re very careful about what kind of software is allowed on a vehicle

    Yup, can't have aliens turning up to wipe out humanity using Linux in their spaceship. I mean, how would it be possible to defeat them by uploading a virus if they're using something decent?

    Mine's the one with a Windows 3.10 disc set in the pocket...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: we’re very careful about what kind of software is allowed on a vehicle

      Don't worry we used Aricebo to beam SAP into space.

      Reports are that the Borg cube is now offline awaiting an upgrade

      1. Francis Boyle

        That was merciful

        If they'd wanted to kill them they'd have sent them Vista.

  5. John Robson Silver badge

    Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

    Isn't there is a Pi on the ISS, and I'm pretty sure that's in space.

    One could reasonably argue that on mars isn't in space as well...

    </pedant>

    Beer's all round - other beverages available on request.

    1. BoredTyke

      Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

      He does say "deep space" which I think was an acknowledgement of the fact Linux has some space pedigree already.

      </worse pedant>

      It's always beer o'clock somewhere in space!

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

        Pretty sure if you put your head out the ISS it would be deep space enough!

        1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Think of it like a robotic space cow, munching on the earth's atmosphere.

          Stick a paper bag outside the ISS and you can probably collect enough oxygen for a breath. We can have an argument about where space begins, but I refuse to concede that anything afflicted by atmospheric drag is in "deep space".

          Clearly, only one icon for this story--------------------->

          1. Tom 7 Silver badge

            Re: Think of it like a robotic space cow, munching on the earth's atmosphere.

            And the solar wind...

            1. Peter X
              Joke

              Re: Think of it like a robotic space cow, munching on the earth's atmosphere.

              What's hacking got to do with anything? Oh... (getting my coat now)!

          2. Peter X

            Re: Think of it like a robotic space cow, munching on the earth's atmosphere.

            AFAIK gravity is 0.9G on ISS too... so... it's no distance really! Even the surface of Mars must have less gravity which is kind of crazy.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

        Both deep space and space are mentioned...

        but the article (rather than quotes within) says:

        "NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is the first one to use an open source OS like Linux in space."

        Or at least it did when I first read it, and when I just checked.

    2. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

      Many of the ISS Thinkpads are running Debian.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

      What they mean, I'm sure, is Linux in the control system for a spacecraft/lander/helicopter: it doesn't count, I think, if you have Linux running on some system which is not in the loop of running the vehicle.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Linux

        Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

        it's a fair bet you'll find a great deal of software written for RPis (and other things Linux-powered) that are well tested and come in handy for making the drone copter work.

        I have sometimes considered whether a home-built hybrid rocket capable of leaving earth's gravity could use Celestia as a basis for its navigation system... [not like I could really build that but still, how WOULD you navigate up there?]. If nothing else, Celestia could make a good basis for a flight simulator to train astro-pilots.

        In any case, might as well just say it: TUX! IN! SPAAaaaace!!!

        1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

          Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

          Google Maps?

    4. Spherical Cow

      Re: Pretty sure Linux in space isn't new...

      The SpaceX Dragon capsule runs on Linux.

  6. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  7. Amentheist
    Joke

    In other news

    "A drone sighted on Mars puts all Heathrow flights on halt"

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Pint

    So, after years of trying

    We've finally delivered a UFO to Mars to confuse the locals!

    Excellent! Many of these will be required -->

  9. Scott Broukell

    Your package was delivered by auto-copter

    Since you were not available to accept the package at the time of delivery we left it over there, just behind the large dusty yellowish rock, but before the top most ridge line. Thank you for using MACD (Mars Auto-Copter Delivery).

  10. Morrie Wyatt
    Black Helicopters

    Penguins on the red planet

    When he started developing linux, I bet Linus never envisioned seeing a flying penguin on Mars.

    Doing well so far. I've seen all to many model helicopters end up doing the dead chicken dance at the slightest excuse.

    If I recall the definition correctly: Helicopter: Thousands of parts all trying to kill you.

    1. Steve K Silver badge

      Re: Penguins on the red planet

      Plus: "If something hasn't broken on your helicopter, it's about to"

    2. swm Silver badge

      Re: Penguins on the red planet

      As someone once said to me, "God never intended a propeller to fly sideways."

    3. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

      Re: Penguins on the red planet

      I guess we have to modify this famous quotation:

      'Helicopters don't fly. They're just so ugly that Earth Mars repels them'

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    I'm not sure what the best moment was

    But when the person stood up and tore up a bit of paper, which turned out to be the 'contingency speech' might be the best. (Although not actually: I'm not ashamed to say that seeing the B/W picture from the down-looking camera made me cry.)

  12. Red Ted
    Pint

    Follow-Me mode

    I wonder if you could make it follow Perseverance as it roves?

    Can Perseverance pick it back up again? If not I suspect it is a bit doomed at the next storm.

    Never the less, an amazing achievement.

    1. Peter X
      Joke

      Re: Follow-Me mode

      I wonder if you could make it follow Perseverance as it roves?

      Because Samsung mobiles were mentioned, I'm imagining some part of the SoC firmware trying to detect a face (and a smile) every time a photo is taken.

      So... I suspect the "follow mode" would only work if someone had thought to paint a face on Perseverance!! :D

  13. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
    Boffin

    Long Live Ingenuity!

    Ingenuity will only operate over 30 days...

    Didn't they say something like that about Spirit and Opportunity too?

    Here's hoping for more than a few flights and a decent lifespan for the thing.

    Top boffinry all around though, nice one!

    1. AdamT

      Re: Long Live Ingenuity!

      I think there is a bit of a difference in the "wear and tear" in each case. For Spirit and Opportunity the point was for them to be there for a reasonable amount of time and to travel a reasonable distance to make it all worth while. With a combination of good design, careful operation, making everything a bit bigger/stronger (i.e. "rounding up" on the specs of everything they could) and, to be realistic, a bit of luck they vastly exceeded the design life.

      But Ingenuity is a tech demonstrator. It is the smallest, lightest thing that they could build that could plausibly function. If it had failed completely it wouldn't have effected the primary mission (but would obviously have been hugely disappointing for the 'copter team). But the battery is going to get treated really harshly - it's in a very cold environment, it is going to get charged slowly over a day or so (whilst being partially discharged overnight to try and keep everything warm) and then it is going to get _savagely_ discharged during each flight. I'm sure they will be analysing the battery/power data really carefully and optimising everything they can but basically this is textbook "how not to make your battery last" cycling (well, at least the charging is slow I suppose). At some point (sadly soon) it won't be able to accumulate (and keep) enough charge each day to make up for the losses overnight and still have some spare to accumulate for a flight.

      But, yes, here's hoping that they get plenty more flights before that happens!

  14. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  15. rcxb

    Human-made

    the first human-made helicopter to take flight on another planet.

    I see we're leaving open the option of aliens, but not advanced ancient Atlanteans. Why is that?

  16. Sirius Lee

    Why is radio comms so slow?

    The rate at which bits can be transferred to Perseverance at 200kb is very slow. Why not choose to transmit at a faster rate? Surely the hardware could have been capable. Is it an attempt to keep the power requirements really low so it does not affect Perseverance in some way?

    1. 0laf

      Re: Why is radio comms so slow?

      I'm sure there will be a reason it's just not being mentioned since most people don't really care that much. El Reg readers being a slightly odder breed like to know the details.

      Myself I'd like to know what NASA plan to do with the drone if it does last beyond it's planned life. I'm sure they've given some thought as to how to use it if it proves tougher than expected. I doubt they'd just say "ok it flew now dump it".

      If nothing else it's a nice bit of PR to humanise the probes as little companions.

      1. AdamT

        Re: Why is radio comms so slow?

        On wikipedia they state that it is using the ZigBee protocol. I think that is pretty slow but has decent range. Also, they would want something omnidirectional so there is no need to aim antennas, etc. By the time you've done "simple, reliable, omnidirectional, range of up to 1km, etc." the bitrate is going to get quite low.

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          Re: Why is radio comms so slow?

          Anyone who has looked into going beyond domestic WiFi to get long distance comms for IoT sensors, for example, is used to thinking of communications requirements like "100 bytes a day" as design targets if you want simple to deploy, omnidirectional, low power, range over 1km here on Earth.

          Sure, on Mars there are no needs to be confined to the ISM bands (although using off-the-shelf gear will probably force that by limiting to things like ZigBee or LoRaWAN) and there are fewer of those annoying pillars of water (which the humans call "trees") around .

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022