Because the Wright brothers first took to the skies of Kill Satan Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903, first flights have been vital milestones within the lifetime of any automobile designed for air journey. In spite of everything, it’s one factor to design an plane and make it fly on paper – or laptop. It’s
Because the Wright brothers first took to the skies of Kill Satan Hills, North Carolina, 17 December 1903, first flights have been vital milestones within the lifetime of any automobile designed for air journey. In spite of everything, it’s one factor to design an plane and make it fly on paper – or laptop. It’s fairly one other to place all of the items collectively and watch them get off the bottom.
In late January 2019, all of the items making up the flight mannequin (precise automobile going to the Purple Planet) of NASA’s Mars Helicopter have been put to the take a look at.
Weighing in at not more than four kilos (1.eight kilograms), the helicopter is a expertise demonstration mission at the moment going by the rigorous verification course of certifying it for Mars.
The vast majority of the testing the flight mannequin goes by needed to do with demonstrating the way it can function on Mars, together with the way it performs at Mars-like temperatures. Can the helicopter survive – and performance – in chilly temperatures, together with nights with temperatures as little as minus 130 levels Fahrenheit (minus 90 levels Celsius)?
All this testing is geared in the direction of February 2021, when the helicopter will attain the floor of the Purple Planet, firmly nestled beneath the stomach of the Mars 2020 rover. A number of months later, will probably be deployed and take a look at flights (as much as 90 seconds lengthy) will start – the primary from the floor of one other world.
“Gearing up for that first flight on Mars, we now have logged over 75 minutes of flying time with an engineering mannequin, which was an in depth approximation of our helicopter,” mentioned MiMi Aung, mission supervisor for the Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “However this latest take a look at of the flight mannequin was the true deal. That is our helicopter certain for Mars. We wanted to see that it labored as marketed.”
Whereas flying helicopters is commonplace right here on Earth, flying tons of of thousands and thousands of miles (kilometres) away within the skinny Martian ambiance is one thing else solely. And creating the suitable circumstances for testing right here on Earth presents its personal set of challenges.
NASA engineers examined the Mars Helicopter in a big vacuum chamber that simulated the martian setting. Picture: Picture: NASA
“The Martian ambiance is simply about one p.c the density of Earth’s,” mentioned Aung. “Our take a look at flights might have related atmospheric density right here on Earth – for those who put your airfield 100,000 ft (30,480 meters) up. So you may’t go someplace and discover that. It’s a must to make it.”
Aung and her Mars Helicopter crew did simply that in JPL’s Area Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber. First, the crew created a vacuum that sucks out all of the nitrogen, oxygen and different gases from the air contained in the mammoth cylinder. Of their place the crew injected carbon dioxide, the chief ingredient of Mars’ ambiance.
“Getting our helicopter into a particularly skinny ambiance is simply a part of the problem,” mentioned Teddy Tzanetos, take a look at conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL. “To really simulate flying on Mars we now have to remove two-thirds of Earth’s gravity, as a result of Mars’ gravity is that a lot weaker.”
The crew achieved this with a gravity offload system – a motorised lanyard connected to the highest of the helicopter to supply an uninterrupted tug equal to two-thirds of Earth’s gravity. Whereas the crew was understandably involved with how the helicopter would fare on its first flight, they have been equally involved with how the gravity offload system would carry out.
“The gravity offload system carried out completely, identical to our helicopter,” mentioned Tzanetos. “We solely required a 2-inch (5-centimetre) hover to acquire all the information units wanted to verify that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a skinny Mars-like ambiance; there was no have to go greater. It was a heck of a primary flight.”
The Mars Helicopter’s first flight was adopted up by a second within the vacuum chamber the next day. Logging a grand complete of 1 minute of flight time at an altitude of two inches (5 centimetres), greater than 1,500 particular person items of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminium, silicon, copper, foil and foam have confirmed that they will work collectively as a cohesive unit.
“The subsequent time we fly, we fly on Mars,” mentioned Aung. “Watching our helicopter undergo its paces within the chamber, I couldn’t assist however take into consideration the historic automobiles which were in there up to now. The chamber hosted missions from the Ranger Moon probes to the Voyagers to Cassini, and each Mars rover ever flown. To see our helicopter in there jogged my memory we’re on our strategy to making just a little chunk of area historical past as effectively.”
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