Ingenuity s'est lancé dans une nouvelle mission d'exploration du terrain martien. Son prochain vol le mènera dans une nouvelle zone non arpentée. </p><div> <p>Il y a un mois, la NASA s'apprêtait à sacrifier son hélicoptère sur Mars au nom de la science.
Ingenuity was designed to hover over the Martian surface five times as a technological demonstration. With each flight, NASA engineers pushed the 4-pound rotorcraft as far and as fast as possible, so they predicted that it would eventually crash.
But time and again, the ingenuity has not been knocked down – not by strong Martian winds, copper dust clouds, or other challenges to its mechanics and navigation system. Thus, at the end of April, NASA announced that it would extend the life of the helicopter on Mars.
Ingenuity has now embarked on a new side mission to spot Martian terrain and test operations NASA may want to conduct with future space helicopters. This includes exploring difficult areas that rovers cannot access, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and taking photos for elevation maps.
Ingenuity is expected to complete its first “bonus” flight – the helicopter’s sixth flight in total – in the coming days. The excursion will require more precise maneuvering and aerial observations than any of Ingenuity’s previous flights, making it the drone’s riskiest trip to date.
In its first four flights, Ingenuity returned to the same landing spot, which NASA dubbed Wright Brothers Field. But he now makes one-way trips to different regions.
Ingenuity’s fifth flight took him to a new location in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide impact basin filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago. The helicopter had spotted the location on a previous flight.
This week’s flight will be the first time Ingenuity has landed in an area it had not previously surveyed.
The only information from NASA on this new landing point, called “Field C”, comes from images collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These suggest that the area is relatively flat and rock-free, making it a safe place to land.
The plan is for Ingenuity to spend 140 seconds above the Martian surface – the longest it has ever been in flight – moving at a speed of 9 miles per hour. Ingenuity is also expected to soar 33 feet in the air, an altitude it reached on its fifth flight, something NASA engineers previously thought was impossible for the small drone.
From there it is programmed to head southwest for about 492 feet, then move about 50 to 66 feet south. Along the way, Ingenuity is expected to capture images of brilliant Martian outcrops and ripples of sand. After that, the helicopter is set to fly about 164 feet northeast before touching down at C field.
‘Ingenuity is not going to land softly’
At this point, each of Ingenuity’s landings is tough.
“Note that Ingenuity is not going to land soft – it will attempt to fly in winds up to 22 mph,” wrote Bob Balaram, chief engineer at Ingenuity, and Jeremy Tyler, aeromechanical engineer at AeroVironment, in an article. co-written for NASA.
“Our strategy for landing in windy conditions is to descend with authority, placing Ingenuity’s feet firmly on the ground so that she does not drift on the surface of Mars and cling to a rock,” said they declared.
The helicopter’s suspension system is designed to cushion its landing on the Martian surface. But there’s still a possibility that the rotorcraft could tip over and land on its side, damaging the blades, ending Ingenuity’s mission.
“We hope that we will fly over unsurveyed terrain and, over time, continue to transfer to aerodromes that are not well characterized. So there is a higher probability of a bad landing, ”MiMi Aung, head of the Ingenuity project, said in a recent briefing. .
Even before Ingenuity’s new mission, Aung repeatedly said that a bad landing could end the helicopter’s flights. So far, however, the helicopter continues to exceed expectations.
The fate of Ingenuity is linked to the Perseverance rover
NASA extended Ingenuity’s mission for 30 days on April 30, so there is no guarantee that the mission will continue into the next month. But the drone could continue to fly for longer, as long as it stays alive and doesn’t interfere with the scientific work of the Perseverance rover, which transported Ingenuity to Mars.
“We’re in a sort of thinking phase,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said last month.
Perseverance began its main mission on the Red Planet: the search for fossils of ancient alien microbes.
For now, this work is taking place near the helicopter, as Ingenuity has to communicate with NASA via the rover.
NASA’s original plan called for Perseverance to move farther from its landing point in Jezero Crater than it does now. But then the rover photographed promising rocks that convinced NASA scientists to further study the immediate region.
“These rocks are probably very fine-grained, mudstones that used to be mud at the bottom of the lake,” Perseverance scientist Ken Farley said in a briefing last month. “These are very important to our investigation, as this is the type of environment we would expect to be the most habitable by organisms that might have existed on Mars billions of years ago. “
Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting.