The mission of the Ingenuity Marslet was extended – now it can fly until the fall of 2021

Good news,% username% – Ingenuity’s Martian drone has its mission extended. Now he will not be left to fend for himself after completing a small series of tests, but will continue to use – and the tasks of the drone are quite serious.

The choice of scientists, in fact, is quite logical – Ingenuity will study the terrain along the rover’s route, which will help pave a safe path for Perseverance with the choice of the most interesting objects for study.

What has changed?

From the very beginning, five test flights were planned. At the same time, scientists said that one could not count on the first successful flight, since there are a lot of risk factors. But after everything worked out, and three flights in a row were successful at once, the project team decided to extend the life of Ingenuity.

Yes, there were some minor problems with the fourth tests, but these are not mechanical problems, but only minor software problems. Therefore, the team decided to extend the life of the drone. Now the project management plans to develop a plan for aerial photography of the area, as, of course, as this term corresponds to the realities of Mars and the capabilities of the drone.

It is planned that the flights will be carried out 1-2 times a month, and without significant diversion of resources from the main program – that is, from the research program of the rover itself. The mission of the rover is now the study of potentially interesting objects for science, the study of possible routes for the rover and the compilation of detailed photographs of the landscape.

What does Ingenuity do?

There is no sophisticated scientific equipment either, since the priority task of the apparatus is to prove that flights on Mars are generally possible. And just the main mission has been completed – the Mars spacecraft has successfully taken off four times already.

Before the main flight, there was a software problem, after which a remote software update was required. During the fourth flight, there were problems with the watchdog timer. Because of this, it had to be postponed to April 30. But in the end, the problems were successfully resolved and the Mars spacecraft spent as much as 117 seconds in flight. First, he rose to a height of 5 meters, then flew horizontally 133 meters south, and eventually returned to the starting point of the flight, where he made a soft landing.

The hardware delivers the high performance that a rover needs. Normal flight requires the control loop to operate at 500 cycles per second, plus image analysis at 30 frames per second.

SoC Snapdragon 801 (four cores, 2.26 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB Flash) is responsible for the basic system environment based on Linux. It is it that performs high-level operations, including:

  • Visual navigation based on the analysis of camera images.
  • Data management.
  • Command processing.
  • Formation of telemetry.
  • Maintaining a wireless channel.

Through the UART interface, the processor is connected to two microcontrollers, these are MCU Texas Instruments TMS570LC43x, ARM Cortex-R5F, 300 MHz, 512 KB RAM, 4 MB Flash, UART, SPI, GPIO. They are responsible for various flight control functions. In addition, they are also used for backup in case of failure, so that the information that goes to them is duplicated.

In the future, if all goes well, other aircraft will also go to the Red Planet – with their help it will be possible to survey everything much faster than using wheeled rovers. Ingenuity’s “heirs” will be able to reach regions where rovers simply cannot.

What’s the problem with Mars?

The fact that its atmosphere is very rarefied. Helicopters have never flown under such conditions. The density of the atmosphere near the surface of Mars is 20 grams per cubic meter, which is 61 times less density Earth’s atmosphere (1.225 kilograms per cubic meter). On Earth, this density is approximately at an altitude of 28 to 30 km. But here it is not like helicopters, planes are rare.

So the engineers had to create a new type of apparatus. He passed tests on Earth, in an artificially rarefied atmosphere. But it is clear that there were doubts about its performance. And everything went smoothly – not only did the Mars ship reach the Red Planet, was successfully lowered by the rover to the surface of Mars, but also flew without any problems.

In general, it can be said without exaggeration that the small Mars spacecraft was able to give rise to a new stage in the development of the Earth’s neighbor. Rolling on the surface of Mars is one thing. And another thing is to examine it from above, from a low height, fixing all the details. We look forward to new successes and wish the project team every success.

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