BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. — Work is underway to design a new NASA Mars helicopter.
Thanks to the nearly 50 flights across the Jezero Crater landscape performed by the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, a lot has been learned to help prepare a future rotorcraft for the Red Planet, and there are plenty of add-ons that will be included in the next aerial vehicle that will buzz above the surface of Mars.
NASA’s Perseverance rover has already dropped sample tubes into a special collection area on top of Mars. NASA and the European Space Agency are currently planning a joint Mars sample return campaign that will collect samples of Martian rock and regolith and return them to Earth. The campaign includes two Mars sample retrieval helicopters that will retrieve pre-filled sample tubes and deliver them to a waiting rocket that will then place those samples into Mars orbit.
Related: How NASA will launch Mars samples off the Red Planet
Håvard Fjær Grip is Chief Air and Autonomy Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the lab behind the groundbreaking Ingenuity Mars spacecraft. Work is underway on a new Ingenuity-like airborne system for Mars Sample Return, Grip reported, here at a recent gathering of the Rocky Mountain chapter of the conference on guidance, navigation and control of the Earth. American Astronautical Society (AAS).
Grip outlined plans to adapt and expand Ingenuity’s guidance, navigation and control system for planned Mars sample recovery helicopters. Ingenuity’s design forms the core of the new system, he said, but updates are needed to support the concept of sample recovery operations, primarily in the areas of guidance and navigation.
At this time, details on a new robotic tourbillon for Mars are conceptual, Grip noted, “with details continuing to evolve over the next few years as the design matures.”
Little air to work
How hard is the road ahead?
“Nothing we do is easy. And it’s not easy either. It’s hard but we think it’s doable, with effort,” Grip told Space.com in a post interview. -ASA. “The main challenge here is mass. We have very little air to work with on Mars. This immediately limits the amount of mass we can carry.”
The basic design of a Mars helicopter is supported by the dozens of Ingenuity flights now under its rotor blades at Jezero Crater. “It’s going to be adjusting and adapting new stuff to do something more on Mars,” Grip said.
As for the uncertain new elements, each of the Mars Sample Return helicopters would be equipped with wheels and a small robotic arm. “It’s all conceptual,” Grip said, adding that the decision to fly the mission was not finalized.
“What we’re looking at now is how we can do that,” Grip added, referring to helicopters returning samples from Mars. “What’s pretty clear is that the fundamental configuration of the rotorcraft and the way we control it has been worked out and is a legacy that can be relied on. New parts will take a lot of work, and that will likely change over time. and as we move forward in design,” added Grip.
When it comes to Ingenuity’s Mars airtime, Grip is proud to be the device’s chief pilot from first flight on April 19, 2021 through issue 37. Just before the New Year, he entrusted this work to another. person after gaining new wings to focus on the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters task.
“This first flight definitely stands out…a bitter highlight. Many subsequent flights feature new elements, such as new flight software to give the helicopter more capabilities. Some of the more recent flights have really pushed the envelope. ,” Grip said.
“I don’t think it will ever become risk-free. So there’s always a bit of nervousness waiting for the data to come in. But it gets more routine,” Grip said, the more often the vehicle is flown. However, there is always the mentality of hoping everything works out as planned, he said.
Still, noting that Ingenuity’s pre-hoped flights were only five, the Mars Helicopter “exceeded everyone’s expectations…and certainly mine,” Grip said. “The distance he’s put behind him and using it so productively, it’s huge.”
NASA’s Perseverance rover at Jezero Crater is something of a robotic curator, overseer of a Martian museum of priceless pieces from the Old Red Planet — some of which may contain clues, possibly evidence, of life on Mars.
Such a repository for these samples is currently under construction in the Three Forks area on the floor of Jezero Crater. Thanks to Ingenuity flights over this piece of real estate on Mars, this site is well characterized.
“The ingenuity was extremely helpful, taking surface imagery in this very region. We have real data describing what you’re going to find at Three Forks,” Grip said.
The future of airborne vehicles on Mars is bright, Grip senses, especially their use as tools for human expeditionary crews. One task would be to conduct reconnaissance surveys away from a crew landing spot.
“That’s how far your imagination goes,” Grip concluded. “The bottom line is that we now have a new mobility system ready and proven on Mars…and now how do you use it?”
Follow us @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab)Or on Facebook (opens in a new tab) And instagram (opens in a new tab).
#NASA #targeting #nextgeneration #Mars #helicopter #return #samples #Red #Planet