NASA Designed a Helicopter That Could Fly Autonomously on Mars

2021-02-19

NASA Designed a Helicopter That Could Fly Autonomously on Mars

Ingenuity’s body is the size of a box of tissues, slung underneath a pair of 1.2m carbon fiber rotors on top of four spindly legs. It weighs just 1.8kg, but the importance of its mission is massive.

Ingenuity isnt intended to do anything complicated because everything about the Mars helicopter itself is inherently complicated already. Flying a helicopter on Mars is incredibly challenging for a bunch of reasons, including the very thin atmosphere (just 1% the density of Earths), the power requirements, and the communications limitations.

There are a cellphone-grade IMU, a laser altimeter (from SparkFun), and a downward-pointing VGA camera for monocular feature tracking on board. A few dozen features are compared frame to frame to track relative position to figure out direction and speed, which is how the helicopter navigates.

There is also an inclinometer that would be used to establish the tilt of the ground just during takeoff, and a cellphone-grade 13-megapixel color camera that isnt used for navigation, but to take some pictures while flying.

Helicopter operates half-way autonomously due to its sequencing engine on board. A set of sequences, a series of commands are uploaded that file to the helicopter and it executes those commands.

The guidance part of the flights on the ground in simulation as a series of waypoints, and which are the sequence of commands that operator send to the guidance software. When operator gives a command to the helicopter to fly, the guidance software takes over and executes taking off, traversing to the different waypoints, and then landing.

Source: https://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/aerospace/robotic-exploration/nasa-designed-perseverance-helicopter-rover-fly-autonomously-mars




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