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NASA aims for historic helicopter flight on Mars
(FILES) This NASA photo shows NASA's Ingenuity helicopter unlocking its rotor blades, allowing them to spin freely, on April 7, 2021, the 47th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. NASA announced on April 10, 2021, that the first flight of its Mars helicopter Ingenuity has been delayed to no earlier than April 14 after the vehicle's last test ended earlier than planned, according to a statement from the agency. The delay is due to an anomaly during a test that aimed to have the helicopter's blades reach flight speed of 2,400 revolutions per minute. "During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday [April 9], the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a 'watchdog' timer expiration," NASA officials wrote in the statement. "This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from 'Pre-Flight' to 'Flight' mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth."
AFP/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Handout

NASA aims for historic helicopter flight on Mars

(Agence France-Presse) - April 19, 2021 - 11:20am

WASHINGTON, United States — NASA is hoping to make history early Monday when the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter attempts the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The space agency had originally planned the flight for April 11 but postponed it over a software issue that was identified during a planned high-speed test of the aircraft's rotors.

The issue has since been resolved, and the four-pound (1.8 kilograms) drone could achieve its feat by around 3:30 am Eastern Time (0730 GMT).

Data, however, won't arrive until several hours later, and NASA will begin a livestream at 6:15 am (1015 GMT).

"Each world gets only one first flight," MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said before the first attempt.

The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.

The helicopter traveled to Mars attached to the underside of the rover Perseverance, which touched down on the planet on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Ingenuity's goal, by contrast, is to demonstrate its technology works, and it won't contribute to Perseverance's science goals. 

But it is hoped that Ingenuity can pave the way for future flyers that revolutionize our exploration of celestial bodies because they can reach areas that rovers can't go, and travel much faster.

The timing of the helicopter flight is chosen with the weather on Mars in mind. Wind is the big unknown and could jeopardize the mission.

The flight is challenging because the air on Mars is so thin — less than one percent of the pressure of Earth's atmosphere. 

That makes it much harder to achieve lift, even though it will be partly aided by a gravitational pull that is a third of Earth's.

High-res videos

The helicopter will rise for about six seconds, hover and rotate for about 30 seconds, then go back down.

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars. 

Ingenuity itself will analyze its position with respect to the Martian surface.

After the flight, Ingenuity will send Perseverance technical data on what it has done, and that information will be transmitted back to Earth. 

This will include a black and white photo of the Martian surface that Ingenuity is programmed to snap while flying.

Later, once its batteries have charged up again, Ingenuity is to transmit another photo -- in color, of the Martian horizon, taken with a different camera.

But the most spectacular images are supposed to come from the rover Perseverance, which will film the flight from a few meters away.  

Shortly after this filming, six videos of 2.5 seconds each will be sent to Earth. NASA hopes at least one of them will show the helicopter in flight.

The entire video will be sent over the following few days. 

"There will be surprises, and you will be learning about them right at the same time that we will. So let's all get the popcorn," said Elsa Jensen, who oversees the cameras on the rover.

'High risk'

Four outcomes are possible, said Aung: full success, partial success, insufficient or no data coming back, or failure.

If the flight is a success, NASA plans another no more than four days later. It plans as many as five altogether, each successively more difficult, over the course of a month.

NASA hopes to make the helicopter rise five meters (16 feet) and then move laterally.

Ingenuity's "lifetime will be determined by how well it lands" each time, said Aung — meaning whether it crashes.

"Once we get to the fourth and fifth flight, we'll have fun," she said. "We are going to take very bold flights and take high risk."

MARS NASA
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 11, 2021 - 8:52am

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.

May 11, 2021 - 8:52am

The US space probe Osiris-Rex on Monday left the orbit of the asteroid Bennu, from which it collected dust samples last year, to begin its long journey back to Earth.

The probe still has a vast distance to cover before it lands in the Utah desert on September 24, 2023. 

Osiris-Rex is "now moving away over 600 miles an hour from Bennu, on its way home," Dante Lauretta, head of the mission, said on NASA's video broadcast of the event. 

The spacecraft's thrusters were engaged without incident for seven minutes to put the probe on the correct trajectory home, a journey of 1.4 billion miles (2.3 billion kiometers).

It is carrying more than 60 grams of dust and fragments from the asteroid, the largest sample collected by NASA since the Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions. — AFP

May 10, 2021 - 8:32am

SpaceX will launch a satellite to the Moon next year funded entirely with the cryptocurrency Dogecoin, Canadian company Geometric Energy Corporation, which will lead the lunar mission, announced Sunday.

The satellite, dubbed DOGE-1, will be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the first quarter of 2022, the Calgary-based company said in a statement.

The cubic satellite, weighing 88 pounds (40 kilograms), will aim to obtain "lunar-spatial intelligence from sensors and cameras on-board," according to the statement.

The "DOGE-1 Mission to the Moon" will be "the first-ever commercial lunar payload in history paid entirely with" Dogecoin, Geometric Energy Corporation said, without specifying how much the project cost.

"We're excited to launch DOGE-1 to the Moon!" Tom Ochinero, SpaceX vice president of commercial sales, said in the statement. — AFP

May 9, 2021 - 2:23pm

A large segment of a Chinese rocket re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated over the Indian Ocean on Sunday, the Chinese space agency said, following fevered speculation over where the 18-tonne object would come down.

Officials in Beijing had said there was little risk from the freefalling segment of the Long March-5B rocket, which had launched the first module of China's new space station into Earth orbit on April 29.

"After monitoring and analysis, at 10:24 (0224 GMT) on May 9, 2021, the last-stage wreckage of the Long March 5B Yao-2 launch vehicle has reentered the atmosphere," the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a statement, providing coordinates for a point in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. —  AFP

May 6, 2021 - 9:02am

The Pentagon says it is following the trajectory of a Chinese rocket expected to make an uncontrolled entry into the atmosphere this weekend, with the risk of crashing down in an inhabited area. 

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is "aware and he knows the space command is tracking, literally tracking this rocket debris," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says. 

China on Thursday launched the first of three elements for its space station, the CSS, which was powered by the Long March 5B rocket that is now being tracked. —  AFP

May 6, 2021 - 7:05am

SpaceX successfully landed its prototype Starship rocket on its fifth attempt, a livestream Wednesday shows.

There was however a small fire at the base of the rocket, dubbed SN15, which announcers said was not unusual. —  AFP

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