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Researchers complete first real-world study of Martian helicopter dust dynamics

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Mars 4-pound Ingenuity Helicopter. Researchers have developed the first-ever model of helicopter dust dynamics on a planet. Credit: NASA

Mars is a dusty planet. From tiny dust devils to giant storms that blanket the Earth, dust is a constant challenge for research missions. This was especially true for the Ingenuity, a rotorcraft that has been exploring Mars with NASA’s Perseverance rover since February 2021. Now, researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology, the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, based on Ingenuity’s historic first flight on Mars, have the first real-world understanding of Martian dust dynamics. Completed research and paved the way for future extraterrestrial rotorcraft missions. .

work reported in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planetscould support NASA’s Mars Sample Return Program (to retrieve samples collected by Perseverance) and the Dragonfly mission to set course for Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, in 2027.

“There’s a reason helicopter pilots on Earth prefer to land on helipads,” says co-author Jason Rabinovich, assistant professor at Stevens University. “When a helicopter lands in the desert, its downdraft can cause a ‘brownout’ where dust is stirred up and visibility is reduced to zero. Mars is practically he one big desert. ”

Rabinovitch has been working on the Ingenuity program since 2014 and joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory soon after the concept was first pitched to NASA to create the first theoretical model of helicopter dust lifting in the dusty Martian environment. bottom. At Stevens, Rabinovitch continues to work with JPL to investigate plume-surface interactions during spacecraft powered descent. He has also modeled geophysical phenomena such as the inflation of his supersonic parachute and the Enceladus plume.

Stevens Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Space Science Institute and others have tested the first theoretical model of helicopter flight on dusty Mars. Credit: NASA

Rabinovitch explained that studying dust dynamics on another planet is not easy. “Space is a data-poor environment. Sending videos and images back to Earth is difficult, so we have to work with what we can get.”

To overcome that challenge, Rabinovitch and colleagues at JPL used advanced image processing techniques to extract information from six helicopter flights. These are all low resolution videos captured by Perseverance. By identifying subtle variations between video frames and the light intensity of individual pixels, the researchers were able to determine both the size and total mass of the dust clouds rolled up when his Ingenuity took off, hovered, maneuvered and landed. I was able to calculate

The results were very close to Rabinovitch’s engineering model. limited information It became available to the team in 2014, when Rabinovitch and his colleagues were writing back-of-the-envelope calculations intended to support Ingenuity’s original design.

As expected, the study shows that dust is an important consideration for extraterrestrial rotorcraft, with Ingenuity removing about one-thousandth of its own mass (4 pounds) each time it flies. Presumed to have kicked up dust. That’s many times more dust than a comparable helicopter would produce on Earth, but Rabinovich warns that direct comparisons are difficult.

“It was exciting to see Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z video shot for engineering reasons, but it finally showed that Ingenuity lifted so much dust off the surface that it opened up a new line of research. ” said Mark Lemmon. First author of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science Mars Science Laboratory and Research.

“When thinking about Martian dust, we have to consider not only the low gravity, but also the effects of pressure, temperature and air density. There are still many things we don’t fully understand,” Rabinovich said. I’m here. Still, he adds, it makes studying the Ingenuity dust cloud very exciting.

A better understanding of brownouts could help NASA expand future robotic missions. solar panel Make it easier to safely land sensitive equipment on Mars’ dusty surface. It can also provide new insights into the wind and the role it plays. dust of weather patterns Erosion both on Earth and in extreme environments around the solar system.

For more information:
MT Lemmon et al, Lifting and transporting Martian dust by the Ingenuity Helicopter Rotor Downwash, observed with high-speed imaging from the Perseverance Rover, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (2022). DOI: 10.1029/2022JE007605

Quote: Researchers have completed the first real-world study of Martian helicopter dust dynamics (January 31, 2023).

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