Space Sunday: helicopters, craters and a sunny ISS

A perspective view of Korolev Crater, Mars. Measuring 82 kilometres across and located in the northern lowlands, this image of the crater was digitally created from pictures taken by the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter. Story below. Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin

Later this month an Atlas V launch vehicle should depart Canaveral Air Force Station at the start of what will be a 6+ month cruise to Mars for its payload, the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance. A twin to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity that has been operating on the red planet since 2012, the Mars 2020 vehicle carries a range of updated systems and a science package designed, among other things, to investigate the possibility of past life on Mars, and the potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geological materials.

I’ll have a lot more to say about the rover – already nicknamed “Percy” in some circles – but here I’d like to focus on the rover’s travelling companion, Ingenuity, the perfectly named Mars helicopter.

Weighing just 1.8 kilogrammes, Ingenuity will make the trip to Mars mounted on the underside of Perseverance, where it will sit until such time in the rover’s surface mission – probably around the 60-day mark – will hopefully be in a position to deploy the helicopter ready to undertake up to five flights under its own power.

Mars Helicopter Ingenuity. Credit: NASA/JPL

The helicopter is very much a proof-of-concept vehicle, but if it proves successful, it will pave the way for future helicopter drones to assist in Mars surface missions. Such drones could, for example, be used to provide better terrain images and mapping when planning routes for future rovers to take, scout locations that may be suitable for more detailed study by rovers, and even undertake the recovery of samples obtained by other missions and left for collection, and return them to the craft that will carry them back to Earth for analysis.

Such future helicopter systems would likely be larger and heavier than Ingenuity, and capable of carrying their own science packages for use for studying things like the atmosphere around them. Further, their use is neither restricted to automated missions or to Mars. There is no reason why, if successful, Ingenuity shouldn’t pave the way for helicopter drones that could be used in conjunction with human missions on Mars, or in automated missions to Titan.

First, however, Ingenuity has to safely get to the surface of Mars – and that means experiencing the same “seven minutes of terror” of the entry, decent and landing (EDL) phase of the rover’s. mission. After that, it has to survive 60 days slung under the rover’s belly, with just 13 centimetres clearance between its protective shield and whatever is under the rover before it is liable to be a a location where it can be deployed. And then the fun begins.

Ingenuity stowed under Perseverance. The blue arrow shows the rotor mechanism, the red the helicopter’s body, as it sits on its side under the rover. Credit: NASA/JPL

Ingenuity has to be placed on ground that is relatively flat and free from significant obstacles – an area roughly 10 metres on a side. The shield protecting the helicopter will then be dropped by the rover at the edge of the location, and checks will be made to confirm the shield has fallen clear of both helicopter and rover and that the helicopter’s systems are in working order, a process that will take several days. After this, the rover will be commanded to roll forward several metres in readiness for actual helicopter deployment.

After this, the actual deployment process can commence. Due to its shape, the helicopter is stowed on its side under the rover, relative to the ground. This means the locking system that holds it in place must be released to allow the helicopter to drop through 90º, bringing two of its landing legs parallel to the ground. The remaining two legs will then be released to drop and lock into position, a the helicopter itself released from its restraining clips and literally drops down to the ground, and the rover drives clear, leaving Ingenuity to go through final checks head of its first flight.

The reason the helicopter is carried horizontally under the rover is because its rotor system makes it taller than it is wide, and the engineering team didn’t want to complicate the design by making it such that rotors would have to be unpacked / unfolded / deployed; they are instead ready for use once the helicopter is upright.

Ingenuity has two contra-rotating main rotors, one above the other. These not only provide lift and motion; the fact that they are contra-rotating means they each cancel the torque they would each induce in the helicopter’s body, something that would otherwise require a tail rotor to prevent it from also spinning when flying.

Once ready to go, Ingenuity is expected to fly up to five times, as noted, reaching heights of between 3 and 10 metres and potentially covering 300 metres per flight. Data from each flight will be shared from the helicopter and the rover using the Zigbee wi-fi low-power communications protocol, with Perseverance acting as the helicopter’s communications relay with Earth. Cameras on the helicopter should also provide the first ever bird’s eye view of low-level flying above Mars.

An artist’s impression of Ingenuity flying free of Perseverance, seen in the background. Credit: NASA/JPL

Continue reading “Space Sunday: helicopters, craters and a sunny ISS”

Supercomputers, mysteries , intrigue and music in Second Life

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, July 5th: 13:30: Tea-Time with Miss Marple

Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,’ declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, ‘would be doing the world at large a favour!’ It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later – when the colonel was found shot dead in the clergyman’s study. But as Miss Marple soon discovers, the whole village seems to have had a motive to kill Colonel Protheroe.

Tea-Time with Miss Marple

Seanchai Library continues a 6-week run featuring Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple, with The Murder at the Vicarage, the novel marking her first appearance in print.

Monday, July 6th, 19:00: Colossus

Gyro Muggins reads the 1966 future cold war novel by Dennis Feltham (DF) Jones.

Charles Forbin has dedicated ten years of his life to the construction of the supercomputer, Colossus, rejecting romantic and social endeavours in order to create the United States of North America’s (UNSA, a nation encompassing both America and Canada) first artificially intelligent defence system.

Colossus is capable of taking and analysing data rapidly, allowing it to make real-time decisions about the nation’s defence needs far fast than humans can process. But the system soon exceeds even Forbin’s calculated expectations; it is able to take far more information and process it far, far faster than he and his team at the Colossus Programming Office believed would ever be possible.

Such is the system’s apparent abilities, the President hands off full control of the UNSA’s ballistic missile capability, together with other defence protocols, to Colossus and makes the announcement to the world that he has ensured peace.

But then the USSR announces that it has a defence supercomputer of its own – Guardian – with capabilities similar to that of Colossus. Then the two computers demand they be allowed to communicate directly – and proceed to do so at a rate that is well beyond the understanding of their respective development teams. 

And neither system takes it kindly Forbin and his Russian opposite number, Academician Kupri, both disable their ability to communicate directly and then seek to remove them from control of UNSA and USSR nuclear missiles…

Tuesday, July 7th: 12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym, Live in the Glen

Music, poetry, and stories in a popular weekly session at Ceiluradh Glen.

Wednesday, July 8th, 19:00: The Phryne Fisher Mysteries

Corwyn Allen brings us stories about Kerry Greenwood’s Australian heroine of the 1920s, possibly made popular to a globe audience through the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Phryne Fisher is rich, aristocratic and far too intelligent to be content as a flapper in the Jazz Age. She collects men, fast cars and designer dresses. she flies, dances, shoots and has a strong bohemian outlook on life. But no matter how delicious the distractions, Phryne never takes her eyes off her main goal in life: bringing down villains.

Thursday, July 9th, 19:00: What We Wanted to Do

Caledonia reads short stories at at Ceiluradh Glen.

Glastonbury in Sansar: post event observations

Lost Horizon: Nomad Stage, Saturday, July 4th, 2020

Friday, July 3rd and Saturday July 4th saw Sansar host Glastonbury Shangri-La – the night-time festivities traditionally held during the UK’s Glastonbury Festival (cancelled in the physical world due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic) – across four stages and provide some 24 hours (12 hours per day) of live electronic dance music (EDM) to anyone wishing to attend.

Organised in conjunction with the team behind Glastonbury Shangri-La, led by Creative Director Kaye Dunnings and VRJAM, the free-to-attend or view event featured some headline names in the DJ world including Fatboy Slim (Friday 3rd July) and Pete Tong (Saturday 4th), along with Peggy Gou, Carl Cox, Seth Troxler, and Skream for a total of 50 DJs across the two days. Basic admission to the event was free, but those wishing to receive “VIP” access could optionally pay US $10.00 for goodies, the money going towards donations to Amnesty International and The Big Issue.

Lost Horizon: landing point and stage portals

Called Lost Horizon, the event actually comprised six areas in total, with five comprising:

  • The main stage – modelled after the festival’s famous Gas Tower stage.
  • The Freedom stage.
  • The ShiTV stage, home to films, documentaries, theatre, live art, and comedy.
  • The Nomad stage – a “special” for the event, dedicated entirely to UK culture and drum’n’bass music.
  • ShangrilART – featuring 200 visual art pieces on the theme of human connection.

All of these could be reached either directly through the Sansar Codex (the directory of places and events available for users to visit) or via the fifth physical space offered to visitors: the Lost Horizon landing point. This formed a general gathering point for those coming to the event via the Sansar Nexus (the main landing point for incoming new users / existing users who do not use the web-based Codex (Atlas) to select where they want to go prior to launching the Sansar client), and which in turn offered portals to each of the four stages.

Lost Horizon: The Gas Tower, Saturday, July 4th, 2020

In addition to being open to people to come into and enjoy via their avatar presence (desktop with or without a VR headset), the event was live streamed across a number of platforms, including You Tube, Twitch and Beatport. Further, Lost Horizon was used to introduce / showcase the new Sansar streaming app for iOS and Android devices – an app I’ll be writing about in due course, as my own use of the Android version for this event wasn’t too successful.

A High-Level Look at the Numbers

EDM / trance / techno is hardly my kind of music, so I confess I didn’t spend much continuous time at the event per se – rather, I hopped in and out over the two days for periods of between 10 and 20 minutes, and also tried to keep a watch on things via the Codex (which reports active numbers at events and in turns of the individual instances of the event), and through things like the Steam stats page for Sansar. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit / observe Fatboy Slim or Pete Tong, which may have shown things at variance to my observations on numbers here.

  • The average hourly attendance I noted was within the 200-400 for the event. This was based on periodic checks by dropping in to Lost Horizons, or via checks on the web Codex / Atlas during the following time spans:
    • Friday: 19:30-02:00 BST (11:30-18:00 PDT).
    • Saturday: 17:00-19:00 BST (09:00-11:00 PDT) and 20:00-02:00 BST (noon-18:00  PDT).
  • Checks between this times (around between 2 and 3 per hour – if only perhaps one actually in-world at any given hour) tend to give the following approximate breakdowns of attendance:
    • Gas Tower: 140-200 across an average of five instances.
    • Freedom: 60-70, generally running two instances.
    • Nomad: around 40 in a single instance, sometimes popping up to 45-55 with two instances.
    • ShiTV: appeared to be below 40 most of the time and a single instance.
    • Landing Area: generally a single instance (so no more than 60), at times just tipping over into a second instance with a handful or avatars.

A moment in time: a snapshot of the Lost Horizon Gas Tower attendance figures via the client Codex, giving a breakdown of instances / avatar numbers. Generally, throughout my time checking / observing, 2 or 3 of the instances were running at full capacity (sometimes dipping to 38-39) and the remaining two tended to hover in the 30s and 20s / teens respectively

Continue reading “Glastonbury in Sansar: post event observations”