NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter recently reached an incredible milestone: Two years on Mars!
Launched on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida as part of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, Ingenuity is the first technology demonstration of flying aircraft on the Martian surface. Redwire’s Veritrek thermal design software supported thermal design of the helicopter and has continued to support mission operations. With an original mission timeline of 30 Martian days and up to five separate flights on the Martian surface, Ingenuity has successfully completed its primary mission with 46 successful flights and over two years on Mars.
Enabling a new era of flights in our solar system
During mission planning, Redwire’s Veritrek software enabled teams from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to evaluate thermal system design sensitivities of the Ingenuity helicopter. Since landing and operating on Mars, Veritrek has supported mission operations by enabling rapid thermal model correlation and mission planning.
Being the first helicopter on another planet, there were many unique challenges to designing Ingenuity. Some challenges included the helicopter’s small design, complex geometries, limited power, and challenging environments; consequently, additional care was taken while designing the helicopter’s thermal system. Veritrek was used to explore the sensitivities of the system’s thermal drivers, such as electronics dissipations, gas gaps and heat transfer coefficients, and to assess and verify the Ingenuity helicopter’s thermal design. It is estimated that it would have taken more than four months to obtain the same level of information that Veritrek provided in 10 days. The results provided JPL with a better understanding of the critical components of the Ingenuity helicopter system.
The Veritrek team also provided specialized reduced-order model (ROM) software during planning of the Ingenuity Helicopter to predict how the helicopter’s thermal systems will perform once on Mars. After observing the helicopter’s ROM performance, JPL engineers were confident in the software’s ability to support Ingenuity’s mission operations by enabling rapid thermal model correlation and instant exploration of its thermal system response for different operation scenarios. The result allowed NASA JPL to evaluate multiple options for flight and communication activities and utilize these results to better optimize mission operation routines.
Ingenuity’s Two Years on Mars
According to NASA, as of March 10, 2023, Ingenuity has logged 46 flights on Mars, including:
- Distance flown: 10,104 meters (~33,151 feet)
- Highest altitude: 14 meters (46 feet)
- Fastest ground speed: 6 m/s (13.4mph)
- Total flight time: Nearly 80 minutes
More Support for Mars 2020
Ingenuity was only one part of Redwire’s involvement in the Mars 2020 mission. During its interplanetary journey, Redwire contributed Digital Sun Sensors for the Mars 2020 spacecraft, which carried Ingenuity and the Perseverance Rover to the surface of Mars. These sensors are critical to navigating the journey from Earth to Mars, ensuring that the mission has essential attitude determination, particularly leading up to atmospheric entry at Mars.
The Digital Sun Sensor has a rich flight heritage and is valued for its accuracy, durability and compact and lightweight design. Other missions and spacecraft Adcole Digital Sun Sensors have supported include Parker Solar Probe, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Mars Science Lander Curiosity, IRIS, and Cassini-Huygens.