WATCH: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Uses Two Worlds to Test Future Mars Helicopter Designs

By  //  November 24, 2023


ABOVE VIDEO: NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter made its 59th flight on Mars achieving its second-highest altitude while taking pictures of this flight – the Perseverance Mars rover was watching. See two perspectives of this 142-second flight that reached an altitude of 66 feet (20 meters). This flight took place on Sept.16, 2023.

(NASA) – For the first time in history, two planets have been home to testing future aircraft designs. In this world, a new rotor that could be used with next-generation Mars helicopters was recently tested at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, spinning at near-supersonic speeds (0.95 Mach).

Meanwhile, the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has achieved new altitude and airspeed records on the Red Planet in the name of experimental flight testing.

“Our next-generation Mars helicopter testing has literally had the best of both worlds,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s project manager and manager for the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters.

“Here on Earth, you have all the instrumentation and hands-on immediacy you could hope for while testing new aircraft components. On Mars, you have the real off-world conditions you could never truly re-create here on Earth.” That includes a whisper-thin atmosphere and significantly less gravity than on Earth.

The next-generation carbon fiber rotor blades being tested on Earth are almost 4 inches (more than 10 centimeters) longer than Ingenuity’s, with greater strength and a different design.

NASA thinks these blades could enable bigger, more capable Mars helicopters. The challenge is, that as the blade tips approach supersonic speeds, vibration-causing turbulence can quickly get out of hand.

To find a space big enough to create a Martian atmosphere on Earth, engineers looked to JPL’s 25-foot wide, 85-foot-tall (8-meter-by-26-meter) space simulator – a place where Surveyor, Voyager, and Cassini got their first taste of space-like environments.

For three weeks in September, a team monitored sensors, meters, and cameras as the blades endured run after run at ever-higher speeds and greater pitch angles.

“We spun our blades up to 3,500 rpm, which is 750 revolutions per minute faster than the Ingenuity blades have gone,” said Tyler Del Sesto, Sample Recovery Helicopter deputy test conductor at JPL.

“These more efficient blades are now more than a hypothetical exercise. They are ready to fly.”

At around the same time, and about 100 million miles (161 million kilometers) away, Ingenuity was being commanded to try things the Mars Helicopter team never imagined they would get to do.

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