Autonomous vehicles Drones Technology

Ingenuity Scheduled to Make Five Flights on Mars

image of Ingenuity Will Make Five Flights
Ingenuity Will Make Five Flights

Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars on Thursday, Feb. 18, at 3:56 p.m. ET, carrying on its belly a 4-pound drone helicopter known as Ingenuity.

From an article in Fierce Electronics by Matt Hamblen.

It will be the first powered flight by a drone on any planet beyond Earth, after surviving the rover’s landing. In coming weeks it will perform its test functions in the thin Martian atmosphere, about 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere.

The extreme low pressure and cold of Mars, down to minus 130 degrees F at night at the landing site at Jezero Crater, will test the resilience of the drone and its electronics.

One of the first things Ingenuity has to do when it gets to Mars is just survive its first night,” said Tim Canham, Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There’s even a programmable thermostat on board to keep it warm. The drone will charge itself with a solar panel atop its rotors.

Ingenuity relies on counter-rotating coaxial rotors about 4 feet in diameter that spin very fast to work in the thin atmosphere.

The main computer behind it all is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor that includes a quad-core CPU, a GPU and a 55 megapixel downward facing image signal processor.

The computer controls a visual navigation algorithm using Mars surface geographical features tracked with the camera.

Surprisingly, the Snapdragon processor aboard Ingenuity is not ruggedized by itself, although JPL has encased the processor to protect against Mar’s low pressure and cold, said Dev Singh, general manager of robotics and drones for Qualcomm in an interview with Fierce Electronics.

In fact, the chip is not much different from other Snapdragon chips used in billions of smartphones, Singh said. Qualcomm first began working with NASA JPL in 2016 on the Ingenuity project.  Qualcomm’s flight platform is a multifunctional chip used for drones and robots.

Singh confirmed Qualcomm is hoping to work with NASA JPL on future missions, although he would not elaborate.  Future chips might be ruggedized to handle even more severe conditions on other planets.  Working on Ingenuity has also provided insights on ways to improve terrestrial robots and drones for use in industrial settings and may impact development of collective groups of robots that are linked through cellular communications, he said.

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