back to article Mars helicopter to take a breather, recharge batteries

The Mars Ingenuity helicopter is to take a breather to recharge its batteries after its latest successful flight a little over a month ago. Power is a problem for the experimental flying machine as dust in the Martian atmosphere means less sunlight is reaching the vehicle's solar panels to charge its batteries. Ingenuity has …

  1. Youngone Silver badge

    Thanks NASA!

    I have decided that the real reason NASA keeps sending these robots to Mars is supply me with a bunch of great desktop wallpaper images.

    Thanks NASA!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks NASA!

      Really, that's what billions of tax payer dosh is for?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Thanks NASA!

        It's a better use than propping up religions, which are all failing for what should be obvious reasons.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Thanks NASA!

          > "It's a better use than propping up religions, which are all failing for what should be obvious reasons."

          Oh well, if that's the only other thing that it could be spent on, then why not a grandiose type of firework?

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Thanks NASA!

            "then why not a grandiose type of firework?"

            Your wish is our command! See SLS :-)

            1. el_oscuro
              Mushroom

              Re: Thanks NASA!

              It hasn't actually launched yet, but I did try it on KSP:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xalBVIBlrw

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Thanks NASA!

                LOL I like how you left the boosters out of shot, disappearing who knows where, thus paving the way for a sequel :-)

        2. JDX Gold badge

          Re: Thanks NASA!

          Isn't everyone in a good mood today.

          I didn't realise the US government was "propping up religions". Or that data showed "all religions are failing". Numerically atheists are a minority, you may be speaking morally but in that case "it's obvious" is a statement that hardly ever holds true.

          If you must be an angry atheist who can't help forcing their hobby-horse into unrelated discussions, at least be a moderately informed angry atheist so you don't give atheists a bad name. Better yet maybe we should just avoid politics and religion in the comments here. Neither ever leads to anyone feeling happier and calmer so why bother.

          1. JDPower666

            Re: Thanks NASA!

            It may not be propping them up, but it is providing significant financial resources and tax breaks.

            And whilst atheists may be outnumbered, their number is rising. Does that mean religion is "failing"? I don't know, but it's not a good sign.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Thanks NASA!

            Atheism is, of course, a belief system and has its fundamentalists ("There is no God and Dirac is his prophet"). Agnosticism, not so much.

            1. JDPower666

              Re: Thanks NASA!

              No it's not. There is no belief required to think something non-existent doesn't exist. America isn't made of cheese and populated by golden unicorns farting out rainbows. That is a false statement, it requires no belief. Same with atheism, the lack of a god is the default position, not a belief.

      2. petethebloke

        Re: Thanks NASA!

        The billions of pounds are still here on Earth. Only a few quids' worth of metal and plastic and silicon are actually on Mars.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Thanks NASA!

          For the laws of economics are almost as cold as the martian sands, nearly as cruel as the rocket/fuel equations, and dictate that which was not lost to an irreversible process of thermodynamics is merely transferred to be spent again on beer and tacos.

          1. ian 22
            FAIL

            Re: Thanks NASA!

            It amazes me that we can fly an electric helicopter on Mars, but we can’t operate an electric clothes drier in Texas.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing there....

    Maybe it's looking for a bin?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Nothing there....

      You have honestly never wondered "what's around that corner?" or "what's over the next hill?" or "what's on the other side of the water?"? Really?

      I feel very, very sorry for you. You are obviously missing an important aspect of what makes the rest of us human.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

        Re: Nothing there....

        Bilbo Baggins? Is that you?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Alien

      Re: Nothing there....

      Ah, poor Zanzibar, your life must be so empty with no sense of wonder or curiosity. Of course you will say it is not empty, because, lacking any sense of wonder or curiosity, you can not know what you lack.

      But you suspect, do you not? And it burns at you, and you hate the people who are not damaged like you, the people who do have curiosity, the people who do have wonder and seek understanding of new things. So you spend your time searching out posts about exploration and curiosity and wonder and trying to spread a little of your grey depressing emptiness: trying to make everything a little worse. And you succeed: you do make everything a little worse, a little greyer, a little more empty. Well done.

      I see you have turned up on threads about JWST images now as well, posting your idiocies. Ah well.

  3. TrevorH

    You'd think that after the number of times they've had solar panels covered up in dust they would have invented a solar panel windscreen wiper

    1. navidier

      Wipers Times

      > You'd think that after the number of times they've had solar panels covered up in dust they would have invented a solar panel windscreen wiper

      ... or tear-offs ...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Wipers Times

        Presumably they'd need to include a bin, or the greenaholics will raise a stink about littering.

        1. ravenviz Silver badge

          Re: Wipers Times

          Redaholics on Mars, Shirley.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Martian dust is highly abrasive. The sand kicked up by the wind even more-so.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        This is because unlike earth dust it has not been subject to water so it has sharper edges than Earth dust which tends to be rounded.

        If that wasn't bad enough the dust particles are small, very small, averaging about 5 microns, for comparison Johnson's Baby Powder averages at over 25 microns.

        Dust that small will ingress everywhere. Small particles means a large surface area in which to collect a static charge which makes the dust electrostatically rather sticky.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "This is because unlike earth dust it has not been subject to water so it has sharper edges than Earth dust which tends to be rounded."

          I thought wind-blown sand on Earth was very rounded.

    3. SpamuelBeckett

      You'd think after all these years people would READ THE ARTICLE.

    4. Dave 126

      A windscreen wiper (or cleaning vibration, a la a DSLR camera sensor) would shift sand that settles on the panel, but would do nothing for sand suspended in the atmosphere during a storm.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        A wiper, a fan, a tip and (dis)charge and any of a dozen ideas to move dust all fail at the same step:

        There is no conceivable system that would work better or weigh less than just having an extra panel instead of some silly mechanical gubbins.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          So why didn't they....

          1. ian 22

            It seems that operating more than a decade (Earth time) beyond requirements isn’t good enough for some people.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Boffin

            Try to think. Adding another panel would double the mass of the panels, and double the effect of the panels on the airflow over the blades thus making the blades less efficient meaning it needed more power to fly, some combination of bigger batteries (more mass) or shorter flights.

            The thing was meant to fly three times. It has now flown twenty-nine times: almost ten times as many flights as it was built for. And it is not dead yet.

            1. DJO Silver badge

              Really I should have said "bigger panel" instead of "extra panel".

              Any gubbins to remove dust would add mass and as the idea is to increases panel efficiency the logical place to save that mass would be to make the panel (and the cleaning gubbins) smaller.

              Having said that I've come up with something that "might" work - Have a loop of clear plastic film going over and under the panel and some electrostatic device to put a repelling charge on the plastic film. When the dust has built up the loop rotates taking the dust with it so there's a clean cover over the panel and at the other end the electrostatic thing cleans the film ready for the next time.

              Problems: Longevity (at sub zero temperatures) and resistance to scratching of the plastic film.

              Weigh of film, rollers, motors and electrostatic gubbins.

              Difficulty of mounting the panel because clearance is required for the film.

              Dust collecting under the panel.

              Dust getting between the film and panel and scratching everything.

              All in all it's probably more trouble than it's worth and the same probably applies to any scheme to keep panels clean in an alien environment.

              This is why we need a manned expedition to Mars, we need somebody up there with a broom to keep the solar panels clean.

  4. TVU Silver badge

    "Dust has bedeviled many a NASA probe over the years. The Opportunity rover was eventually done in by a dust storm after a 15-year stint trundling around the surface and the agency's InSight lander is set to go out in a blaze of data-gathering glory in the next month or so as its power levels drop"

    The problem there is that NASA persists with using flat solar panels that collect dust instead of using angled solar panels. Experience on this planet shows that tilting the solar panel leads to less dust and less power output degradation. Now that really is not rocket science.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Static is a much larger problem on Mars than it is here on Earth.

      Perhaps something like a lint/pet hair roller with anti-static properties would work?

    2. DJO Silver badge

      ... Experience on this planet shows that tilting the solar panel leads to less dust...

      Because the rain washes the dust off, precious little rain on Mars.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Ah yes, And all the people who have worked for years on this did not work this out. Clever you.

      Hint: dry dust, small dust, dry atmosphere, static electricity.

      1. TheProf
        Joke

        In that case....

        Anti-static grounding straps. £10 from Amazon. Buy two and get free delivery to Mars. Although you'll have to be in when the delivery man arrives as they don't have a locker on Mars. Yet.

        1. JDPower666
          Joke

          Re: In that case....

          Yeah but connecting the earthing strip to Earth would be troublesome.

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: In that case....

          "they don't have a locker on Mars."

          Are you sure about that?

  5. Ribfeast

    Maybe use the helicopter to blow the dust off the lander? Risky though :)

  6. MachDiamond Silver badge

    XKCD

    I almost fell out of my chair from the hover-over text.

    Here's another fun one:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5Ie7i6vRUM

  7. JDX Gold badge

    Do they deliberately say "oh this is only designed to last a couple of weeks" knowing full well it should have a much longer life? Is this so they never have things fail earlier than designed, or is it a scientific thing that "designed to last 2 weeks" means "designed to have a 99.99% chance it'll last two weeks?"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, he's kinda right on with the back half.

      These things are built to fit a mission window that has primary objectives which are unusually a short window. But the individual systems are all robustly over-engineered, for exactly the reason you mention. It's to buy more 9's.

      And when all of the parts function to specification, you end up with something that can last a lot longer than anticipated. At this point, things like the rovers have proven they can go years past their design life and that is part of the extended mission planning process. For the copter, they REALLY didn't expect it to last this long.

      I expect that this type of unit will be a big part of future missions, and probably work in tandem with the larger rovers. That might include a landing/docking point to help shelter it during inclement martian weather, and potentially charge the thing to help them survive the off season. In return they may be able to use it to help dislodge debris from the parent rover, help with path selection, etc.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Let's not forget that these things already have to survive a pretty violent launch to start with. I suspect the engineering required fto cope with that goes a long way towards delivering longetivity as a beneficial side effect at the other end of the journey.

      If you play a game of chance with a cost of delivery that cannot be offset by Amazon Prime and a final destination that is a tad beyond the average on-site service contract, overengineering is not a luxury. That things then work far longer than expected is a massive bonus, but I think it's also a beneficial side effect of having to design it so it survives the very launch, journey and delivery stages to start with.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "Is this so they never have things fail earlier than designed, or is it a scientific thing that "designed to last 2 weeks" means "designed to have a 99.99% chance it'll last two weeks?""

      The book "Roving Mars" by Steve Squyres is a great look into space science and the intricacies of working with NASA.

      To get funding from NASA for a mission or to be included in a mission requires that you have a set of acceptable minimum goals for your investigation. You need to set a bar for yourself that high enough to get approved and low enough that you can pull it off. You never want something to happen that your fault and causes you to not meet those minimums. It usually means not being able to get on any more missions in the future.

      It's a real bonus when they run the wheels off of these projects after hitting the milestones that were stated in the mission goals. With so much at stake on these missions, they aren't giving anybody a place if they can't submit something with useful and achievable goals.

  8. Kev99 Silver badge

    If there are any winds on Mars, why doesn"t NASA put small wind turbines on it kit to generate the juice?

    1. Comedy of Errors

      Because the atmospheric pressure on Mars is less than 1% of that on earth. Not enough to drive a turbine.

  9. Comedy of Errors

    Solar panels are in the wrong place

    The problem is the solar panels are above the blades. If it was below then the air wash from the blades in flight would keep the dust off.

    The only problem might be shade from the props when not in use, but that could be minimised by setting the resting position of the blades such that they are one above the other and at 90 degrees to the panel.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Solar panels are in the wrong place

      If they were in the prop wash they would be canceling lift, which they can not afford to lose much of in the thin martian atmosphere. That said I expect that future mars flyers will be more robust and have more endurance features. This is very much an over performing Mk I proof of concept.

      That said, the longer they keep this one running, the better the next one will be.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: Solar panels are in the wrong place

        You could tilt them down for flight, and back up for cleaning by the rotor, which could be run at a 'cleaning' speed.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Solar panels are in the wrong place

      What if...

      The blades were the solar panels?

      1. Surreal Estate

        Re: Solar panels are in the wrong place

        That was my thought. Or, how about one of those piezoelectric doodads like used on vinyl records to neutralize static cling? Or maybe Teflon coated solar panels?

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