Science.-Ingenuity overcomes a flight through hostile terrain on Mars

06-07-2021 Image of Ingenuity’s shadow on the Martian soil during the ninth flight POLICY RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY NASA JPL


NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has completed its ninth flight: a high-speed trip through hostile terrain, in which it flew away from its mother, the Perseverance rover.

Perseverance is currently on the eastern edge of a scientifically interesting region called “Séítah,” which is characterized by sandy undulations that could be very challenging terrain for wheeled vehicles like the rover. The last two Ingenuity flights had been designed to keep pace with the rover on this journey.

Instead of keeping ahead of the rover, however, Ingenuity’s ninth flight has delivered something that only an aerial vehicle on Mars could accomplish: taking a shortcut through part of the Séítah region and landing on a plain to the south. Along the way, aerial color images were taken of the rocks and ripples it flew over.

To achieve this, Ingenuity was instructed to fly 625 meters at 5 meters per second and remained in the air for 166.4 seconds, as confirmed on its Twitter account by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which operates the mission.

According to JPL, this maximum effort also challenged Ingenuity’s navigation algorithm in a fundamentally new way. This on-board algorithm that allows Ingenuity to determine where it is along the flight path was designed for a comparatively simple technology demonstration over flat terrain and does not have the design characteristics to accommodate the high slopes and undulations encountered. found in Séítah. The ripples can cause oscillations of a few meters in the helicopter’s altitude control, but Ingenuity has flown high enough above the ground that this will not be a problem.

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However, these steep slopes and changes in the slope path could also cause significant course deviations, as the steep terrain images taken by the camera are interpreted onboard using a flat terrain assumption. There was a clear possibility on the ninth flight that the cumulative effect of this would produce a large lateral error at the destination landing site, with errors of several meters.

To avoid this, the team took mitigation measures by flying slower over challenging sections encountered in the early portions of the flight to reduce descent errors from a large initial heading error.

Myrtle Frost

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