As many of you may already know, NASA achieved a big win recently when they completed the first controlled and powered flight of a man-made object on another planet. Specifically, they flew the Ingenuity drone for 39 seconds on the red planet. This may not sound like much but it is a monumental achievement. In this article, we are going to talk about how that Drone actually flies and how it is controlled!
Recently, the new Perseverance rover landed on Mars and with it, the Ingenuity drone arrived. The rover dropped the drone off in a makeshift Martian airfield and from there, the small helicopter performed its flight. The engineers actually delayed the launch due to some software failures but in the end they were able to fly it. There are few reasons why this was so difficult but the main reason is because of the atmosphere on Mars.
The air on Mars is much thinner than it is on Earth, which means that flying is significantly more difficult. So, the engineers at NASA had to get creative when designing a machine that could flying this atmosphere. There were some preliminary requirements that had to be met as well. For example, the craft had to be light enough to be launched on the rocket, and it had to be able to fit under the belly of the perseverance rover. In fact, it was said by the engineers that the size requirement and the fact that the aircraft had to be able to fit under the belly of the rover was the most difficult task.
The engineers settled on a small helicopter design that consists of four legs, a small body that houses the electronics, two large carbon fiber propellers, and a solar panel at the top. This design met the size and weight requirements that would allow it to both fit under Perseverance and weigh little enough to fit in the rocket. However, this design brings up some questions as to how the aircraft flies.
For instance, the aircraft does not have the smaller blade that many helicopters have to stop them from rotating. Another question is how does the drone create enough lift to get off the surface in the less dense atmosphere? Well, let’s look at the first question first and explore Ingenuity’s propulsion system a little more.
The blades on the helicopter are large compared to the helicopters size. This means that they create a lot of thrust relative to the weight of the helicopter. However, due to the lower density of the atmosphere, the blades have to spin at around 2,500 rpm. This is significantly faster than they would have to rotate on Earth.
The second blade acts as both another source of thrust and a source of counter momentum. As the first blade rotates, its angular momentum begins to spins the aircraft. However, the second blade spins at the same speed and counteracts the angular momentum of the first blade. All of this allows the aircraft to create lift and stay centered in flight without rotating.
To get this craft off the ground though, NASA had to make it light. I mean, they had to make it very light! The solar panels are extremely thin and very high tech. The blades on the helicopter are made of a carbon fiber shell with foam on the inside. The legs are made of an extremely flexible and lightweight material that allows the aircraft to land comfortably. Finally, the aircraft has all of its components housed in an extremely lightweight box that provides enough heat for the components to survive in the harsh Martian environment.
All of this extreme weight savings means that the aircraft can create enough thrust to lift itself into the air. Due to the atmosphere’s density issue, the drone can’t fly all too high. But, the NASA engineers plan to fly the drone for up to 90 seconds on Mars, which would break more records! They are going to continue to push the boundaries of flight on Mars until the drone eventually crashes.
I hope that this article has helped to give you a better understanding of the new Mars Ingenuity Drone and how it works. If you enjoyed this article, consider sharing it with a friend or family member or leaving us a comment in the comment section down below! If you want to read more, check out this article about the recent Ingenuity flight: Infinity Aerospace. Once again, thank you all for reading and remember to check back for more aviation content soon!