How NASA flew a helicopter on Mars - Deepstash
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Ingenious fly

Ingenious fly

Imagine that you are flying your drone on a planet 180 million kilometres away. It takes 20 minutes for your command to reach the planet – and the pictures you see of what is happening are 20 minutes old. You cannot take evasive or corrective action if anything goes wrong, it would take too late. This is the type of situation that the NASA's engineers did not wish to experience on the first flight of the "Ingenuity" helicopter on Mars on April 19.

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The Success🎉🎉

All the planning and calculations paid off. Just after 12 pm British Summer Time, a NASA engineer announced to mission control that “all data sets are nominal”. This, of course, is space-talk for: “We are incredibly happy, everything has gone well”. A few minutes later, the data - a rather unprepossessing graph. But it was sufficient for the engineers in mission control to clap and cheer.

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50 reads

Engineering marvel

Engineering marvel

Even though gravity of Mars is 1/3rd of Earth's which helped to offset the effect of the much lower atmospheric pressure (about 6 mbar). But even so, Ingenuity’s blades had to rotate at 2400 RPM (compared to 500 RPM on Earth) to provide the required lift for the 2 kg craft.

Just achieving such a rapid spin rate for the two 1 m long blades was a significant advance in propulsion technology.

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What Ingenuity can't do !

Ingenuity does not have the rear rotor blades of a conventional helicopter for “steering” – and, as mentioned, commands cannot be given in real-time. Each flight will be as nail-biting as the first.

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Rise of Rotor Blades

Rise of Rotor Blades

Ingenuity apparently carried on board a small piece of canvas from the Wright brothers’ aeroplane, the Wright Flyer. It was, clearly, an excellent token for success for the little spacecraft.

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