Mars Monday: Ingenuity flies

Ingenuity hovers 3m above the surface of Jezero Crater, Mars, watched by the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance. Credit: NASA/JPL

April 19th saw aviation and space flight history made 288 million kilometres from Earth, when a tiny drone-like craft weighing just 1.8 kg spun-up two contra-rotating rotor blades, each 1.2 metres in diameter, to 2,500 rpm and then rose into the tenuous atmosphere of Mars to a height of 3 metres, hovered rotated about its vertical axis, then descended to land on the Martian surface once more.

Ingenuity, a proof-of-concept system to test the feasibility of controlled, powered flight on Mars, is a remarkable little vehicle that holds great promise for the future of the exploration of that world. While this initial flight was short – under a minute in total length from spinning-up its rotors to touch-down, it opens the door to more extensive flights over the coming days that will see the vehicle complete more complex manoeuvres. In doing so, it will provide vital information on the behaviour of rotary vehicles on Mars, vehicles that could in the future provide enormous additional potential and capabilities to future robotic missions on Mars and eventually support human missions.

The flight occurred at 07:31 UTC on Monday, April 19th, with telemetry being recorded by the helicopter’s own systems and relayed to the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which also recorded the event using its Mastcam-Z camera system and its navigation cameras. The initial data from the flight was then transmitted to Earth some three hours later, with additional images and video being transmitted throughout the day.

The first indication of the success of the flight came not through any pictures but via a simple graphic track of altimeter readings made by Ingenuity. Mostly flat to show the vehicle was sitting on the ground, the track was marked by a sudden “bump” recording the vehicle rise to just over 3 metres, its hover, and then its descent. It was enough to get the helicopter’s flight team – a handful at JPL practising social distancing in a large room, the rest working from home – rejoicing. But the chart was just the opening treat.

The altimeter data track from Ingenuity was the first solid indication that Ingenuity had successfully flown. Credit: NASA/JPL

Following the initial receipt of data, still images in low-resolution captured by Perseverance’s navigation cameras clearly showed the helicopter “jumping” between to close-together points, indicating that during the period between the images, it had flown and landed. However the biggest treat came later in the day with a stream of frames captured by the Mastcam-Z system on the rover.  When strung together, these produced a video of the flight.

Ingenuity is a project more than six years in the making, and has uniquely involved not only multiple NASA space and science centres, but also their aviation research and development centres as well. It was actually a late addition to the Mars 2020 mission, requiring some extensive changes to the rover that had to be made in order to mount the helicopter beneath the rover’s belly, and include a mechanism for deploying Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars.

Ahead of the Mars 2020 launch, Ingenuity want through extensive testing to simulate flight conditions on Mars. This involved placing the vehicle a large vacuum chamber filled with carbon dioxide to a pressure to match the surface atmospheric pressure on Mars – which is the equivalent of Earth’s at an altitude of 30 km. To simulate the low Martian gravity (38% that of Earth’s), a special rig was attached to the demonstrator to counter 62% of its mass. Finally, a wall of 900 computer fans was used to simulate typical surface wind speeds on the surface of Mars, as recorded by the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity.

 All of this allowed engineers to define the optimal size of the helicopter’s rotors, balancing them against Ingenuity’s mass and size and to determine things like their required rate of spin to achieve flight – between 2,400 and 2,500 rpm  – five times the speed of Earth-based helicopter rotors.

A low-resolution image taken by Ingenuity’s downward point camera showing the helicopter’s shadow on the surface of Mars as it hovers at a height of 3m. Credit: NASA/JPL

Even so, flying an engineering test model in a controlled environment is very different to doing the same on Mars – hence a lot was riding on this first flight.

Ahead of it, the area selected for the test flight sequence and previously dubbed “the airfield” was unofficially renamed “Wright Brothers Field”. Having safely dropped off the helicopter there in early April, Perseverance had driven some 70 metres from Ingenuity at a rise overlooking the area that NASA has dubbed “Van Zyl Overlook” in honour of key Ingenuity team member Jakob van Zyl, who passed away unexpectedly in August 2020. From this vantage point it is hoped that the rover will be able to record all of Ingenuity’s flights.

Captured by Ingenuity’s downward-pointing camera, this image shows Ingenuity’s shadow on the surface of Mars just before it lands. Two of the vehicle’s legs can be seen top left and top right, while the 2,500 rpm spin of the contra-rotating blades used to provide lift makes them appear semi-transparent. Credit: NASA/JPL

Prior to the flight, and as noted in my previous Space Sunday update, the flight team had to make some changes to the software overseeing Ingenuity’s first flight. Not only have these adjustments worked well, it is hoped that they will remove any need for running a complete software re-installation on the vehicle – a process that could take several days to complete and severely impact the ability to complete all of the remaining four planned test flights. However, the option of a full re-installation is being kept open should further issues arise with the timing and control processes.

Inn the meantime, it’s going to be a few days before all of the data from the first flight has been analysed. As such, the next flight for Ingenuity has yet to be scheduled.

When it does goes ahead, it should see the helicopter rise to an altitude of around 5 metres, then translate into horizontal flight for a distance of some 50 metres before coming to a stop, then returning once more to land.

As it is, the initial telemetry from Ingenuity shows it is a good health – better, in fact than before it lifted off. This is because the flight removed dust that had been accumulating on the solar cells located above the vehicle’s rotors, interfering with their efficiency.

In all the Mars Helicopter project has three goals:

  • Show via Earth-based testing that it should be possible for a heavier-than-air vehicle  to take flight on Mars – achieve via the vacuum tests described above.
  • Achieve stable flight on Mars – now achieved through this first flight.
  • Obtain data that can inform engineers as to the design and capabilities required by future aerial vehicles that could be deployed to Mars – and also elsewhere in the solar system, such as Saturn’s moon Titan.
Following the flight, the ICAO has officially designated Ingenuity the first of aircraft type IGY, and gave its testing area on Mars the airport code JZRO. image credit: NASA

Continue reading “Mars Monday: Ingenuity flies”

2021 viewer release summaries week #15

Logos representative only and should not be seen as an endorsement / preference / recommendation

Updates from the week ending Sunday, April 18th

This summary is generally published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:

  • It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog.
  • By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.
  • Note that for purposes of length, TPV test viewers, preview / beta viewers / nightly builds are generally not recorded in these summaries.

Official LL Viewers

  • Release viewer: Custom Key Mappings RC viewer, version 6.4.17.557391, dated March 24th, promoted March 27th – No Change.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • No updates.
  • Project viewers:
    • No updates.

LL Viewer Resources

Third-party Viewers

V6-style

  • No updates.

V1-style

Mobile / Other Clients

  • No updates.

Additional TPV Resources

Related Links

2021 Raglan Shire Artwalk: call to artists

Raglan Shire Artwalk 2020

The Raglan Shire Artwalk is one of the staples of the SL art calendar, and for 2021 the 16th Artwalk will take place between Sunday, May 16th and Sunday, June 20th, inclusive.

A popular event among artists and residents, the Artwalk can see over 150 artists displaying their work – 2D and 3D – across the regions of Raglan Shire. All the displays are open-air, with 2D art is displayed on hedgerows in and around the regions, while sculptures and 3D art is displayed in a number of designated areas, all of which allows visitors to both appreciate the art and explore the Shire regions.

A Call For Artists for the 2021 event has been issued for those wishing to participate, and key points about the exhibition are as follows:

  • It is a non-juried show.
  • Artists can display more than one piece if they wish.
    • 2D (“flat” art pieces will be awarded a maximum of 15 LI, and individual pictures should be 1 prim, including the frame.
    • 3D art (sculptures, etc.), will be awarded a maximum of 500 LI for up to three pieces of work. Artists are requested to state the LI per piece in their application.
    • Sales of art are allowed.
  • Types of art supported by the show are: representations of RL photography, painting, drawing, printmaking, collage, and digital fine art that can be displayed on a prim;  and SL photography, manipulated SL photography and SL sculpture.
  • Pictures of RL crafts, such as beadwork, leatherwork, etc., are not part of the show’s  definition
  • All the above art forms are welcome, but should be rated PG / G – so no nudity, please!
  • Group membership will be required in order to display work.
  • Tip jars are not allowed.
  • Questions and enquiries should be forwarded via note card to Artwalk Director Karmagirl Avro, or Artwalk Assistants Kayak Kuu, Linn Darkwatch, or RaglanShireArtwalk Resident.

Those wishing to display their art should complete and submit the Raglan Shire Artwalk 2021 Registration Form by no later than 21:00 SLT on Sunday, May 9th, 2021.

Raglan Shire Artwalk 2020

Event Dates

  • Sunday, May 9th: applications close at 21:00 SLT.
  • Tuesday, May 11th: Notification of exhibit space location issued to artists – note that hedgerow space for 2D artists is on a “first come, first serve” basis.
  • Friday, May 14th (after 09:00 SLT) and Saturday May 15th: Artist set-up days.
  • Sunday, May 16th: Artwalk Opens.
  • Sunday, June 20th: Artwalk closes.
  • Sunday, June 20th (after 21:00 SLT) through Tuesday, June 22nd: takedown of works.

Related Links

Space Sunday: to the Moon, ready to fly and pioneers

An artist’s rendering of the SpaceX Starship HLS, now selected by NASA. Credit: SpaceX

On April 16th, in what was something of a surprising announcement, NASA confirmed that SpaceX has been granted the sole contract to develop the first Human Landing System (HLS) required for the Artemis project to return humans to the Moon.

HLS is the technical name given to the vehicle that will physically deliver crews to the surface of the Moon and return them back to lunar orbit. It is also the single element of the Artemis project that more-or-less ruled out the agency meeting the goal of returning the first crew to the Moon by the end of 2024. Developing a space vehicle is not a short-term activity, it requires years of development and testing, and a lot of money. Prior to the announcement, and with just 3.5 years to go for NASA to be able to meet the 2024 goal, it felt as if the decision on any HLS contract was being pushed down the road, NASA’s 2021 budget for any development stood at just US $850 million, around a quarter of the amount requested from Congress.

It was not until April 2020 that initial contracts were awarded to SpaceX and teams led by Blue Origin and Dynetics for initial proposal and develop of potential landing systems (see:  Space Sunday: the Sun’s twin, going to the Moon & SpaceX). At the time NASA indicated they would likely proceed with two of the options; hence the reason for some of the surprise expressed after what was something of a hastily-arranged press conference the focused only on SpaceX gaining the initial contract – although the door is being kept open for the other teams to bid / compete for future Artemis missions.

During the announcement, NASA admitted that costs and a limited budget were a major factor in the decision. Not only is SpaceX already well down the road in Starship development, their bid price for the contract was significantly lower than either Blue origin or Dynetics. A further factor in SpaceX’s favour is their long-term operational relationship with NASA.

In this 2020 rendering (sans the revised landing legs), three of the exhaust ports for the high-thrust RCS system that will be used to bring the SpaceX HLS into a landing can be see below and to the right of the crew egress door. Credit: SpaceX

The contract to develop HLS is US $2.9 billion,  which covers the development of the system over the next few years, and the first two flights – an uncrewed test flight / landing and the first crewed landing. While a lot, this is actually around 13% of the cost of developing the Apollo Lunar lander when the latter is adjusted for inflation.

The SpaceX HLS Starship will be substantially different to those currently being developed and tested. As the Moon is without atmosphere, the HLS variant will not have any aerodynamic surfaces, nor will it have any thermal protection system, as it will not be making any atmospheric entries.

Instead, the Starship HLS will be equipped with four large deployable landing legs that will likely resemble those used on the Falcon 9 booster so  as to give as broad as possible “footprint” for stability when landing on the Moon. It will also be equipped with high-thrust RCS motors around its waist to be used in the final part of the lunar landing, rather than relying on its Raptor engines, which would likely blast a crater underneath the vehicle, making landings potentially dangerous.

Even so, its use is not straightforward:  to reach the Moon, the vehicle will be launched to Earth orbit by a Super Heavy booster and will then have to be refuelled by at least one Starship tanker vehicle.

Once it has arrived at the Moon, the vehicle will ferry crews to and from the surface and the Gateway Station – however, in order to do so, it will require routine re-fuelling, and some have already calculated that this could require up to 10 additional Starship launches to support each lunar landing / return flight.

A further potential concern is the sheer height of the vehicle. once on the Moon, a crew will be around 30 metres above the lunar surface, requiring some kind of winch / elevator mechanism in order for them to reach the lunar surface  and to off-load cargo.

As the HLS remains in lunar orbit, crews will be delivered to it via the Gateway station using the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle / SLS booster combination.

NASA Announcements

Alongside the SpaceX HLS announcement, NASA has also announced a new competition for the development of commercial services that can be used in support of human operations on the Moon – cargo delivery systems and similar.

It has also been confirmed that the second crewed launched to the International Space Station using a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle should lift-off fro Kennedy Space Centre at 10:11 UTC on Thursday, April 22nd. The crew, comprising NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide, arrived at Kennedy Space Centre on Friday, April 16th, and performed a final pre-launch dress-rehearsal in readiness for the flight which allowed NASA and SpaceX to confirm the launch vehicle is ready for flight.

The NASA / ESA / JAXA Crew-2 arrive at Kennedy Space Centre. (l to r): Thomas Pesquet (ESA / France), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA) and Akihiko Hoshide (Japan / JAXA).Credit: NASA

Crew-2 will fly to the ISS aboard the Endeavour, the Crew Dragon used for the August 2020 Demo-2 mission that saw astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken made the first human flight to orbit from US soil since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. Similarly, the Falcon 9 booster that will carry them to orbit was also used to fly the Crew-1 astronauts to the ISS in November 2020.

NASA has also received a potential boost from the Biden Administration, which is seeking a 6.3% increase in the agency’s budget for the next fiscal year. In all, the plan published by the administration is requesting US $24.7 billion for the space agency, with US $6.3 billion earmarked for the Artemis programme and US $3 billion for the ISS.

Some US $2.3 billion has been requested for understanding and alleviating climate change, a 10% increase over the prior year. The summary of the spend does not go into specifics on individual missions already in development or being planned, but does point to funding for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (formally WFIRST), which the Trump administration repeatedly tried to cancel, and a 16% increase for NASA’s STEM funding, which again the Trump administration tried to eviscerate through a combination of closing down related NASA departments and reducing funding.

The Biden Administration is seeking a 6.3% expansion of NASA’s budget for 2022, specifically earmarking the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope for funding – a move likely to find favour in congress, which refused three attempts by the Trump administration to kill the project despite its advanced state of developing and low cost. Credit: NASA

Alongside of NASA, the Biden federal budget looks to increase the National Science Foundation’s government funding by 20% (US $10.2 billion) and raise the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association’s budget to US $2 billion.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: to the Moon, ready to fly and pioneers”