How NASA’s Mars helicopter will reach the surface of the red planet

The small ship will seek to demonstrate that controlled, motorized flight is possible on another planet. But just getting it to the surface of Mars will take a lot of ingenuity.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter will travel with the Perseverance rover through 314 million miles (505 million km) of interplanetary space to reach Mars. But for the team working on the first experimental flight test on another planet, engineering the last 5 inches (13 centimeters) of the journey has been one of the most difficult of all. To safely navigate those 5 inches, the distance Ingenuity will travel from where it is stored in the rover to the surface of Mars, came up with the ingenious Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

“The ingenuity is unlike any other helicopter ever built because powered motorized flight on Mars is unlike anything ever attempted,” said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA in Southern California. “And then we had to figure out how to hitch a ride and deploy safely from the Mars Perseverance 2020 rover.”

The square fuselage of the mill (which houses computers, cameras, batteries, and the like) is about the size of a softball (7.9 by 6.3 by 5.5 inches, or 20 by 16 by 14 centimeters). But if you look outside the box, you’ll find plenty of other important things, including an antenna, solar panel, landing legs, and two rotors that are 4 feet (1.2 meters) wide, making stowing and deploying the helicopter a challenge. . The complete package tips the balance at approximately 4 pounds (2 kilograms).

“On a Mars rover mission, adding even a new washing machine is usually worthy of debate,” said Chris Salvo, leader of the Mars 2020 mission helicopter interface at JPL. “The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a large, fragile, and unique set of hardware that is unlike anything NASA has accommodated on a planetary mission.”

Mission engineers considered every available parking space on the rover’s chassis for its unusual addition, including the robotic arm. They eventually landed in the belly of Perseverance, which on a relatively flat stretch of the red planet’s surface should offer approximately 26 inches (67 centimeters) of ground clearance. While that may seem like a lot of space (an earthly SUV provides about a third of that), the delivery system reduces that distance by about 2 inches (6 centimeters). The wit is approximately 19 inches (49 centimeters) tall. This is where the 5-inch trip comes in.

“There is not much room to play,” said Salvo, “but we found that if you connect the helicopter horizontally, there is enough to do the job.”

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter travels to Mars connected to the belly of the Perseverance rover and must safely take off to begin the first attempt at powered flight on another planet. Tests conducted at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin Space show the sequence of events that will bring the helicopter to the Martian surface. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech and Lockheed Martin Space

How the work is done

The mill will be deployed approximately two months after Perseverance lands on February 18, 2021. During early surface operations, both rover and helicopter teams will be on the lookout for potential airfields: a 33-by-33-foot (10 10 meter patch) of Martian real estate that is comparatively flat, level, unobstructed, and visible by Perseverance when the rover is parked near a soccer field.

Around 60th On the Martian day, or sunshine, of the mission, Perseverance will drop the graphite composite debris shield of the Mars Helicopter Delivery System that protected the helicopter during landing. It will then lead to the center of the chosen airfield. About six days later, after the helicopter and rover teams are satisfied that everything is ready, they will order the Mars Helicopter Delivery System to do its thing.

The deployment process begins with the release of a locking mechanism that holds the helicopter in place. Then, a pyrotechnic cable-cutting device is fired, allowing a spring-loaded arm holding the helicopter to start turning the Wit out of its horizontal position. Along the way, a small electric motor will pull the arm until it engages, bringing the body of the helicopter fully upright with two of its spring-loaded landing legs deployed. Another pyrotechnic fire, releasing the other legs.

“And all the time, the deployment system has to maintain the electrical and data cable connections between the rover and the helicopter until it is ready to crash,” said David Buecher, manager of the deployment system at Lockheed Martin Space in Denver. , who built the system. “While I’ve worked on my fair share of space-based deployment systems, this was on another level.”

If all goes well, mission controllers will order the delivery system to be released, and the mill will cover those last 5 inches. Once a good drop is confirmed, Perseverance will be asked to walk away so the helicopter can start recharging its batteries with its solar panel. At that point, the 30 soles clock begins in the Ingenuity flight test program.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a new technology experimental flight test. Future missions to Mars could recruit second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations. They could act as scouts for human crews, carry small payloads, or investigate cliffs, caves, deep craters, and other destinations not visited or difficult to access. But before any of that happens, a test vehicle has to prove that it is possible.

And before the test vehicle can do any of that, it has to land safely on the surface of Mars.

“Wit needs perseverance,” said Aung. “The Mars Helicopter Delivery System is a clever contraption and just one example of how the Mars 2020 mission has worked beyond the call to accommodate our test project. Along with it and the helicopter, they had to incorporate an electronic base station and an antenna dedicated entirely to helicopter operations on the rover. Our teams had to work closely together to make this complex system work. When Ingenuity flies, it will be an achievement that we can all share. “

About the Mars 2020 mission

A division of Caltech in Pasadena, JPL built and manages the helicopter for NASA. Lockheed Martin Space provided the Mars helicopter delivery system. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at the Kennedy Space Center, is responsible for managing the launch.

Perseverance is a robotic scientist who weighs about 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). The rover’s astrobiology mission will look for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for the future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. No matter what day perseverance takes off during your July-August 20. 11th launch period, will land in Jezero Crater of Mars on February 18, 2021.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Accused of returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

For more information on the Mars helicopter, go to:

For more information on the Perseverance Mars rover mission, go to:

For more information on NASA’s Mars missions, go to:

News Media Contact

DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
[email protected]

Gray hautaluoma / Alana Johnson
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0668 / 202-358-1501
[email protected] / [email protected]