A look at Ingenuity’s legs

Link here. This update, written by Bob Balaram, the helicopter’s chief engineer at JPL and Jeremy Tyler, senior aero/mechanical engineer at AeroVironment, outlines the engineering that went into building the helicopter’s legs in order to make sure they could withstand the somewhat hard landings required in the Martian environment.

To withstand these firm landings, Ingenuity is equipped with a cushy suspension system, [with a] distinctive open hoop structure at each corner of the fuselage where the landing legs attach. The lower half of this hoop is a titanium spring that can bend as much as 17 degrees to provide 3.5 inches of motion in the suspension, while the upper half is a soft non-alloyed aluminum flexure that serves as the damper or “shock absorber.” By plastically deforming and fatiguing as it absorbs energy, this flexure acts much like the crumple zone structure of a car chassis. However, unlike a car or the crumple-cushioned landing gear of the Apollo moon landers, Ingenuity’s titanium springs rebound after each impact to pull these aluminum dampers back into shape for the next landing.

The aluminum damper gets a little bit weaker with each cycle as cracks and creases develop. While it would eventually break after a few hundred hard landings, with only a few flights scheduled for this demonstration, that’s a problem we could only dream of having.

This is most likely the failure point that will end Ingenuity’s life, though at the present it is a bit in the future.

Also, the post reveals that JPL subcontracted much of the development of Ingenuity to this company.

AeroVironment designed and developed Ingenuity’s airframe and major subsystems, including its rotor, rotor blades, and hub and control mechanism hardware. The Simi Valley, California-based company also developed and built high-efficiency, lightweight propulsion motors, power electronics, landing gear, load-bearing structures and thermal enclosures for NASA/JPL’s avionics, sensors and software systems.

Good ol’ American capitalism does it again.

Fourth flight of Ingenuity set for today; shifting to operational phase

Ingenuity close-up taken by Perseverance April 28th
Ingenuity close-up taken by Perseverance April 28th

Even as the Ingenuity engineering team will attempt a fourth flight of Ingenuity, JPL announced today that they and NASA have decided to now shift to operational flights, attempting to duplicate the kind of scouting missions that such helicopters will do on future rovers.

The second link takes you to the live stream of the press conference. The press release is here.

Essentially, they will send Ingenuity on a series of scouting missions after this fourth flight, extending its 30 day test program another 30 days. Its engineers will be working with the Perseverance science team to go where those scientists want to send it. After the fourth and fifth test flights they will fly Ingenuity only periodically, separated by weeks, and send it to scout places Perseverance can’t reach, and have it land at new sites that Perseverance scouted out as it travels.

They have decided to do this because they want to spend more time in this area on the floor of Jezero Crater, for several reasons. First, they are still testing the rover to get it to full working operations. Second, they want to obtain some samples for future pickup at this location. Third, they want to spend an extensive amount of time exploring the floor up to a mile south of their present location.

Finally, the relatively flat terrain is perfect for testing and actually using the helicopter as a scout.

Though the extension is for 30 days, and though the helicopter was not built for long term survival, there is no reason it cannot continue indefinitely until something finally breaks.

Right now they are awaiting the data from the fourth flight, which will arrive at 1:39 pm (Eastern) and will be used to determine what the fifth flight will do, probably a week from now.

Ingenuity first test flight scheduled for 3:30 am (Eastern) tonight!

The engineering team for the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars have decided to attempt the first test flight tonight, scheduled for 3:30 am (Eastern) in the early morning hours tomorrow.

Data from the first flight will return to Earth a few hours [later] following the autonomous flight. A livestream will begin at 6:15 a.m. EDT (3:15 a.m. PDT) as the helicopter team prepares to receive the data downlink in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

NASA propaganda will begin on NASA TV at 3:30 am (Eastern), but the actual live stream of the flight will not air until about 6:30 am (Eastern) on April 19th.

At the first link above the engineers explain their decision to proceed immediately.
» Read more

Ingenuity successfully completes rapid spin test

Ingenuity’s engineers announced this morning that yesterday the helicopter on Mars was able to successfully complete a rapid spin test of its rotary blades.

Today, April 16, on the 154th anniversary of Wilbur Wright’s birth, the Ingenuity flight team received information that the helicopter was able to complete a rapid spin test. The completion of the full-speed spin is an important milestone on the path to flight as the team continues to work on the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9).

…The approach that led to today’s successful spin test entailed adding a few commands to the flight sequence. This approach was tested extensively on both Earth and Mars, and was performed without jeopardizing the safety of the helicopter.

They have still not set a date for flight, because they might still decide, after they have analyzed fully the results from this test, to revise the helicopter’s software and upload that change. If not the flight will be relatively soon. If so there will be a longer delay to test that software fully before flight.

Ingenuity test flight delayed

Due to a software issue identified during testing of the helicopter’s rotary blades, Ingenuity’s engineers have decided to delay its first flight for at least three days.

During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.

They are presently trouble-shooting the issue.

Ingenuity’s flight schedule

Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars is now a go for late on April 11th, with the first data arriving in the early hours of April 12th.

The flight plan should that first flight go as expected is as follows:

The helicopter team has 30 Martian sols (roughly 31 days on Earth) to take the first tentative flights. Assuming Ingenuity survives the first flight, it will rest and transmit data before attempting a second flight with lateral movement. Subsequent flights will happen every three or four Martian sols. The fifth flight — if Ingenuity gets that far — will be a chance to really soar. “The probability is it would be unlikely it will land safely because we will go into unsurveyed areas,” Aung said.

They have unlocked and tested the rotary blades, with all working as planned.

To watch JPL will have a live stream which I will embed on Behind the Black when it goes live at about 3:30 am Eastern on the morning of April 12th.

Engineers attach test helicopter to Mars 2020

Engineers have now attached to the Mars 2020 rover the test helicopter that will attempt to make the first air-born flight on another world.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If the small craft encounters difficulties, the science-gathering of the Mars 2020 mission won’t be impacted. If the helicopter does take flight as designed, future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

“Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere,” said JPL’s MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager. “Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet.”

If this works on Mars, MiMi Aung will be in a position to win contracts for similar helicopters for the rest of her life. It seems to me that this project has been her baby from the beginning.

Hacker steals JPL data

A hacker last year was successfully able to hack into the computer system at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and steal 500MB of data.

Who did the hacking is not revealed in the inspector general report [pdf], but the report lists six different hacks of JPL’s computers going back to 2009, two of which were linked to China. It is therefore reasonable to assume that China, which routinely steals new ground-breaking technology rather than develop it itself, was the likely culprit. In addition, the timing of these hacks, from 2009 to 2017, fits well with the steady growth of China’s lunar program. If you wanted to find out how to build an unmanned probe to go to the Moon, JPL would be the ideal facility to steal the technology from.

NASA and JPL have now stated that the government shutdown will not interfere with their promised support for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission.

NASA and JPL have now stated that the government shutdown will not interfere with their promised support for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission.

Earlier reports had suggested that NASA’s Deep Space Network, used to communicate with planetary probes, would not be available because of the shutdown, and the mission would have to be delayed because of this.

Posted from Columbia, Maryland.

A judge has ruled that JPL had no right to displine five scientists for sending emails at work protesting the security measures taken by the Bush administration after 9/11.

A judge has ruled that JPL had no right to displine five scientists for sending emails at work, protesting the security measures taken by the Bush administration after 9/11.

I have no problem with this decision, and in fact I applaud it, as I think it completely inappropriate for JPL to discipline anyone for expressing their opinions about the politics of our time. I contrast this ruling however, which essentially celebrates the freedom of JPL employees to attack the policies of a Republican administration using government resources, with the case of David Coppedge, who was fired by JPL because he happened to express conservative religious opinions while working at JPL. In the case of Coppedge, the courts ruled that it was okay for JPL to fire him.

The contrast illustrates the double standard of our time. In modern America, you are always allowed to express liberal or Democratic Party values, anywhere, anytime, and with whatever resources you can take advantage of. Freedom insists that you have that right. Should you express conservative values, however, be careful. You can be punished for doing so. For some reason (political I suspect) freedom does not permit the expression of these ideas, in all circumstances.

The trial of an ex-JPL computer specialist who claims he was fired for his Christian beliefs ended today.

The trial of an ex-JPL computer specialist who claims he was fired for his Christian beliefs ended today.

Closing arguments ended Monday after a five-week trial. The case will be decided by Superior Court Judge Ernest Hiroshige, who must first review written arguments from both sides and could take months before announcing a verdict. Both sides agreed to forgo a jury.

The testimony of the fired JPL employee who is claiming religious discrimination continued on Monday.

The testimony continued on Monday of the fired JPL employee who is claiming the science center fired him because of his religious beliefs.

[David Coppedge] trial’s started last week, and on Monday [he] testified that his supervisor Gregory Chin had wrongly accused him, threatened his freedom of religion and created a potentially hostile working environment. “You are pushing your religion in this office and harassing people with this religion,” Chin said, according to Coppedge, who added: “He was angry and he got angrier.”

Coppedge said he asked Chin why he considered intelligent design anything but science. “Dave, intelligent design is religion,” Chin replied, according to Coppedge. Chin warned him against discussing religion or politics with colleagues, he said.

“I felt threatened .. I said: ‘Greg, this gets into issues of free speech and freedom of religion … this could be construed as creating a hostile work environment’,” he added.

Real scientists should never feel threatened by anything Coppedge was saying, and should in fact enjoy debating the issue. Unfortunately, I have learned that such open-mindedness is found with increasing rarity in modern intellectual society, especially when it comes to Judeo-Christian beliefs. This is why I tend to believe Coppedge’s story.

The judge in the JPL intelligent design lawsuit has ruled against JPL and that the press will be allowed to observe and report on the testimony.

The judge in the JPL intelligent design lawsuit has ruled against JPL. The press will be allowed to observe and report on the testimony.

David Coppedge, the man JPL fired, testified yesterday, outlining his belief in intelligent design. From the quotes included in the article, he certainly didn’t put forth a convincing case. He also didn’t say anything that justified firing him.