Ben Pipenberg, growing Ingenuity pre-flight. Photo courtesy of AeroVironment.

Hitting Double Digits, Mars Helicopter Ingenuity has exceeded expectations

“This flight was particularly designed to hit some high-value science targets, to display, mainly, aerial imaging of science websites.” Ben Pipenberg, senior aeromechanical engineer at AeroVironment, was explaining. “That was form of the primary time we’ve actually achieved that in a focused means, so this was a way more difficult flight.”

Pipenberg was extolling Mars Helicopter Ingenuity’s 10th foray because it first lifted off from the Red Planet’s floor again in April. Flight 10 was one thing of a watershed; it noticed the little automobile Pipenberg and his group had birthed in live performance with NASA/JPL and different modern corporations move the mile marker on distance flown whereas ranging additional and additional afield from its mid-February arrival on Mars within the stomach of the Perseverance land rover.

Pippen laughed after listening to Ingenuity’s numerous locations described as “a cruise ship on Mars.” Flight 10 got here on July 24th, after a hoped-for preliminary set of 5 know-how journeys had been prolonged to operational demonstrations and journeys to different “airfields.” The 10th journey initiated what could be known as an investigatory section, setting an altitude file (40 toes) and visiting 10 waypoints en path to a rock formation known as “Raised Ridges.” The colour photographs and 3D photographs it collected will inform Perseverance’s up-close exploration of the outcrop, partially to hunt proof for a watery previous on Mars. That’s already begun: an 11th flight, on August 5th, positioned Ingenuity as a scout to help Perseverance’s work.

“The complete group is completely ecstatic, as I’m positive that you can think of.” Pipenberg stated about Ingenuity’s accomplishments.

Planning groundtracks and waypoints for the tenth flight. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL.

Onward and Upward

After years within the lab engineering rotor spin for Mars’ ultrathin environment and satisfying necessities for a helicopter-within-rover-within-capsule Russian nesting doll design, Pipenberg was happy that Ingenuity has considerably surpassed these preliminary projections. “The authentic scope ended after Flight 5; know-how demonstration—we are able to fly on Mars. Six marked the start of the operational demonstration section, and perhaps the primary three flights from there have been form of envelope growth. This is absolutely the primary time that we’re doing good science work.

“That’s an enormous step in the fitting route. The indisputable fact that the {hardware} continues to be working and contributing to precise planetary science now, was not anticipated.”

Ingenuity has overcome some operational velocity bumps, notably in-flight anomalies that had been traced to the digicam navigation system. “It’s at all times completely different if you get to actuality,” Pipenberg famous. “But the best way these photographs are dealt with was up to date. That’s nice information. We’re rising the capabilities to point out precisely how far this factor can go.”

Environmental Lessons

Pipenberg enumerated the varied forms of data Ingenuity already has contributed.

First up had been three environmental options.

“A giant a part of growing the helicopter; we don’t have or we didn’t have a complete lot of details about the climate, the environment, the terrain. Nobody had ever been to Jezero Crater. We had satellite tv for pc footage; we didn’t actually know what the density was going to be, what the wind was going to appear like.

“We had estimates primarily based on simulations. Now we have now floor reality, and we’ve discovered fairly a bit about how a helicopter truly operates in that atmosphere.”

Another environmental unknown concerned Mars’ dustiness. “If you adopted InSight [a 2018 Mars lander],” Pipenberg famous, “ it’s slowly dropping energy as a result of the photo voltaic arrays are coated in mud. Well, it seems that each time we take off, we clear the mud off Ingenuity. That’s huge info: we weren’t positive if the helicopter was going to kick up mud that will intervene with the navigation cameras, or the laser altimeter. Ingenuity is self-cleaning, so completely not an issue. On the subsequent model, we might probably again off on among the margin we’ve utilized to the touchdown gear system, which will increase the capabilities of these methods.

Thermal insights accomplished Pipenberg’s environmental triad. “We form of have floor reality now for the way a lot vitality it truly takes to outlive in a single day, primarily based on the insulation that we have now, the solar energy out there. There’s lots of actually good info that we’re pulling out of those flights.”

Collaboration Lessons

External and inner teamwork additionally got here to the fore.

“I feel that was a particularly good expertise,” he stated about working with companions at JPL and NASA. “And I imagine JPL would say the identical factor.

“Internally, we actually needed to have all the subject material specialists weighing in. On lots of features, from supplies to thermal to aerodynamics, energy methods, structural evaluation, there’s an enormous quantity that goes into optimizing a system like this. And so it was very, very cross-disciplinary.

“It’s precisely the identical with JPL; we had been clearly working very carefully with them. From my perspective as engineering lead for the airframe, it was very comparable pulling in subject material specialists from AeroVironment versus pulling in subject material specialists for JPL. We’d have all people within the room, and JPL clearly has phenomenal sources that AeroVironment doesn’t have by way of house experience. So yeah, actually, actually good partnership.”

Personal Lessons

While Ingenuity retains contributing, nearly all of its AeroVironment job pressure, a minimum of the design group and the fabrication group, has additionally been assigned different work, and Pipenberg stated JPL’s operations group has scaled again as nicely. He cited a optimistic cause: “It takes much less time now we all know what we’re doing. It’s a way more easy course of to plan and execute flights. “

Pipenberg chuckled when requested what he and his shut colleagues had discovered personally from Ingenuity’s missions thus far.

“We spend 5 years agonizing all the pieces that would presumably go mistaken. It’s form of a special mentality, constructing a spacecraft to constructing terrestrial plane, particularly the best way that we at AeroVironment function. Typically, after we’re attempting to innovate a brand new answer to one thing, we ask ‘is that this potential, might this probably work?’ Then we go check it, and we attempt it, consider it.

“With spacecraft, the stakes are so excessive, and also you simply can’t repair something that goes mistaken. And so the mentality is we assume that all the pieces that may go mistaken will go mistaken. We designed to guarantee that these can’t intervene with the answer.

“It’s actually attention-grabbing to form of see all of this stuff we agonized over turned out to not be points.”

What’s Next?

“Flying quicker and farther is actually a purpose,” Pipenberg provided. “[But] we’re beginning to get near among the limits. Our flight time now’s nearly twice what it was designed for the utmost flight. The altitude is definitely larger than what it was designed to fly at any velocity degree.”

Nevertheless, “lots of concepts are floating round. I feel an enormous one goes to be trying to picture websites which are being recognized by the science neighborhood in actual time that the rover can’t get to. Flight 10 was already the primary move of that.”

At the identical time, AeroVironment is figuring out new challenges to fulfill.

“We’re placing in a few of our personal analysis and improvement funds form of the broad applied sciences which are enabling for subsequent technology plane, extra mobility methods, instrument packages, that form of factor, in addition to configurations and missions,” Pipenberg stated. “We’ll have some convention papers popping out, I feel within the subsequent 12 months, speaking about that.

“NASA Ames is engaged on a bigger science helicopter. And I suppose we’re a collaborator with JPL.

That can be for Mars as nicely. It’s a a lot bigger automobile, mainly a standalone science platform. It wouldn’t be touring with a rover. So that’s very thrilling. NASA Ames has been placing out a handful of papers on that.”

Still, the AeroVironment group isn’t able to see Ingenuity parked completely.

“We actually didn’t count on to have the chance to proceed flying,” Pipenberg concluded. “We actually thought Flight 5 was going to be it. This is all gravy to us.”