NASA tests next-gen Mars helicopter designs on two planets

For the primary time in historical past, two planets have been house to testing future plane designs. Just lately, a brand new rotor was examined within the 25-foot House Simulator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which might doubtlessly be utilized in next-generation Mars helicopters.

In the course of the three-week-long take a look at, the carbon-fiber blades had been spun at ever-higher speeds and larger pitch angles to see if they’d stay intact as their suggestions approached supersonic speeds. The blades, that are longer and stronger than these used on NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, reached Mach 0.95 throughout the take a look at. Within the meantime, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has set new data for altitude and airspeed on the Purple Planet within the title of experimental flight testing.

“Our next-generation Mars helicopter testing has actually had the very best of each worlds,” mentioned Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s undertaking supervisor and supervisor for the Mars Pattern Restoration Helicopters. “Right here on Earth, you might have all of the instrumentation and hands-on immediacy you possibly can hope for whereas testing new plane parts. On Mars, you might have the actual off-world situations you possibly can by no means really re-create right here on Earth.” That features a whisper-thin environment and considerably much less gravity than on Earth.

NASA is testing the next-generation carbon fiber rotor blades that would allow bigger and extra superior Mars helicopters. The brand new blades are nearly 4 inches (greater than 10 centimeters) longer than Ingenuity’s blades, with larger power and a unique design. Nonetheless, the problem is that because the blade suggestions method supersonic speeds, vibration-causing turbulence can rapidly get out of hand.

Engineers used JPL’s 25-foot broad, 85-foot-tall (8-meter-by-26-meter) area simulator to simulate the Martian environment on Earth, the place Surveyor, Voyager, and Cassini had been additionally examined. The staff monitored sensors, meters, and cameras for 3 weeks in September because the blades endured run after run at ever-higher speeds and larger pitch angles.

“We spun our blades as much as 3,500 rpm, which is 750 revolutions per minute sooner than the Ingenuity blades have gone,” mentioned Tyler Del Sesto, Pattern Restoration Helicopter deputy take a look at conductor at JPL. “These extra environment friendly blades are actually greater than a hypothetical train. They’re able to fly.”

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been surpassing expectations because it achieved the primary powered flight on one other planet in April 2021. In late 2022, it set an altitude document of 46 ft (14 meters) above the Martian floor, and in April 2023, it celebrated its fiftieth flight by breaking that document with a peak of 59 ft (18 meters).

Over the previous two-and-a-half years, it has accomplished 66 flights, which is outstanding, provided that engineers solely deliberate for 5 flights. Just lately, Staff Ingenuity has been taking their solar-powered rotorcraft out for a spin like by no means earlier than whereas protecting new floor and relaying beneficial information that will show beneficial for mission designers to develop future flying fashions.

“Over the previous 9 months, we now have doubled our max airspeed and altitude, elevated our fee of vertical and horizontal acceleration, and even discovered to land slower,” mentioned Travis Brown, Ingenuity’s chief engineer at JPL. “The envelope growth gives invaluable information that can be utilized by mission designers for future Mars helicopters.”

Ingenuity flights are restricted by obtainable vitality and motor-temperature issues, usually lasting round two to 3 minutes. Flying too quick can confuse the onboard navigation system, which makes use of a digital camera to acknowledge rocks and different floor options as they transfer by way of its area of view.

To realize the next most floor velocity, the staff sends instructions for Ingenuity to fly at greater altitudes, which retains options in view longer. The helicopter additionally established a brand new altitude document of 78.7 ft (24 meters) and set a velocity document of twenty-two.3 mph (10 meters per second).

The staff has additionally been experimenting with Ingenuity’s touchdown velocity, demonstrating that it might land at speeds 25% slower than it was initially designed to land at Flights 57, 58, and 59.

In December, after photo voltaic conjunction, Ingenuity is predicted to carry out two high-speed flights throughout which it is going to execute a particular set of pitch-and-roll angles designed to measure its efficiency.

“The info shall be extraordinarily helpful in fine-tuning our aero-mechanical fashions of how rotorcraft behave on Mars,” mentioned Brown within the press launch. “On Earth, such testing is normally carried out within the first few flights. However that’s not the place we’re flying. You need to be somewhat extra cautious once you’re working that distant from the closest restore store since you don’t get any do-overs.”

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