NASA Helicopter Ingenuity To Explore Mars

NASA Helicopter Ingenuity To Explore Mars

NASA is all set to fly a drone-like helicopter in the atmosphere of the red planet. The craft named Ingenuity, will hitch a ride to Mars aboard the Perseverance lander, making it the first experimental flight on another planet.

Crux of the Matter

Ingenuity – The Mars Helicopter
The Ingenuity craft is a wheeled, robotic rover that has a mission to drive across the planet’s rugged surface. It will launch from Earth this summer, with the touchdown scheduled for 18 February 2021 on Mars. The craft is 50 cm high with four blades, mounted on twin, counter-rotating rotors covering 1.2 m. The size of the rotors was needed to be huge enough to fly in Mars’s thin atmosphere.

How Good A Photographer Is Ingenuity
Ingenuity carries a black-and-white navigation camera and images are beamed by short-range radio links to Perseverance, which then relays them to one of the  NASA spacecrafts in Mars orbit. Subsequently, they are transmitted back to Earth. Dr. Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says multiple images can then be stitched into a panorama using ground software tools.

The helicopter attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, will be deployed onto the Martian surface. Source: JPL

What Is The Mission
The rover’s mission is astrobiological i.e it will search for signs of past microbial life. It will then characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future passage back to Earth.

The helicopter’s main focus would be to return engineering data from the test flights that will provide valuable feedback to refine future designs and pave way for further human exploration of Mars. The primary plan is for it to complete five flights over a period of 30 days for now.

Part Of The Bigger Picture?
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

This is just the beginning. Source: NASA
  • The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center in the city of La Cañada Flintridge. The laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft and has managed all four successful robotically operated Mars rovers.
  • Mars Cube One (or MarCO) was a Mars flyby mission that consisted of two nano spacecraft, MarCO-A and MarCO-B, that provided a real-time communications link to Earth. The two spacecraft were nicknamed by JPL engineers as WALL-E and EVE in reference to the main characters in the animated film WALL-E.
  • The Martian is a 2015 science fiction film starring Matt Damon. The film depicts an astronaut’s lone struggle to survive on Mars after being left behind, and efforts to rescue him and bring him home to Earth.

NASA to Conduct Manned Space Flight after a Decade with the Help of SpaceX

NASA SpaceX Crew Dragon

NASA has announced that it is planning to send two astronauts to International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft around mid-to-late May this year. This will be the first mission since 2011 in which American astronauts are being sent aboard the nation’s own spacecrafts from American soil.

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About the Mission
SpaceX will become NASA’s first Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners. Its Demonstration Mission-2 (Demo-2 or DM-2) of Crew Dragon spacecraft will send NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) for probably 1.5 to 3 months.

The aim behind the extension could be that the US Space Agency does not want to keep one of its astronaut aboard ISS alone for a long time as two of its members would be departing for Earth in late Spring. Behnken, a veteran spacewalker, can also help another NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy with Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA), as per NASA.

A Decade Long Wait
NASA retired its 30-year old space shuttle fleet in 2011. As per NASA instructor Robert Frost, Space Shuttle program was costly to operate and people required to maintain and operate spaceflights remained limited as most of them devoted their work to build the ISS. Moreover, President George Bush, in 2004, had announced that the fleet would retire by 2010 and NASA will focus on completing ISS. Currently, NASA’s astronauts are sent aboard the Soyuz spacecraft of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos.

About Commercial Crew Program (CCP)
CCP is a US program to send astronauts to ISS on private spacecrafts. It is administered by NASA. Boeing and SpaceX had received the contracts for the same. However, Boeing’s debut orbital flight test of Starliner spacecraft failed with as many as 61 areas of improvement. SpaceX with its Crew Dragon spacecraft will be the first private operator to launch astronauts into space.


Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) is a human spaceflight development program that is funded by the U.S. government and administered by NASA. CCDev will result in US and international astronauts flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on privately operated crew vehicles. Operational contracts to fly astronauts were awarded in September 2014 to SpaceX and Boeing. More Info

Extravehicular activity (EVA) is any activity done by an astronaut or cosmonaut outside a spacecraft beyond the Earth’s appreciable atmosphere. The term most commonly applies to a spacewalk made outside a craft orbiting Earth such as the International Space Station. On March 18, 1965, Alexei Leonov became the first human to perform a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes and 9 seconds. More Info

The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station (habitable artificial satellite) in low Earth orbit. The ISS programme is a joint project between five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields. The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars. The ISS maintains an orbit with an average altitude of 400 kilometres (250 mi) by means of reboost manoeuvres using the engines of the Zvezda module or visiting spacecraft. It circles the Earth in roughly 92 minutes and completes 15.5 orbits per day. More Info

NASA raises white flag to SpaceX in the race to Mars


In an interview with Polish publication WP Magazyn, NASA’s Dr. Robert Zubrin admitted that the Elon Musk-led space company SpaceX will reach Mars before NASA. Musk is reportedly planning to launch his mission to establish an outpost on the red planet by 2023 and subsequently send humans in times ahead.

Crux of the Matter

NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover Scheme
As per NASA’s official statement, the Mars 2020 rover is based on its predecessor ‘Curiosity‘ which was launched in 2011. The car-sized rover is about 10 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall while weighing 1,050 kgs. The mission is expected to last for about 687 Earth days, equivalent to one Mars year. The rover is expected to land on February 18, 2021, at Jezero Crater, Mars. The official launch window ranges from July 17 to August 5, 2020, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX’s Mars Game Plan
Elon Musk’s brainchild had stated its aspiration to send its first cargo mission to Mars in 2022. SpaceX’s first mission aircraft ‘Starship‘ is targetted at confirming resources, identifying hazards and placing initial power, mining & life support infrastructure. Its next mission will carry both cargo and crew and is scheduled for 2024. This second mission is aimed at building a propellant depot for future crew flights. Musk hopes to evolve this foundation of the first Mars Base into a self-sustaining civilization.

Clash of NASA-Musk
In a short series of back and forth tweets, Musk had reportedly blamed NASA’s bureaucracy for not yet returning astronauts to the moon. He talked about the progress of mankind from the train to the rocket, expressing his disappointment at not being able to return to the moon after its first flight 50 years ago. This feud comes amidst the US Congress proposing a new space bill. This promises to make NASA push back its moon landing mission to 2028 instead of 2024, and shift back it’s focus to the Mars one.


Exploration of Mars – The planet Mars has been explored remotely by spacecraft. Probes sent from Earth, beginning in the late 20th century, have yielded a large increase in knowledge about the Martian system, focused primarily on understanding its geology and habitability potential. Engineering interplanetary journeys are complicated and the exploration of Mars has experienced a high failure rate, especially the early attempts. Roughly sixty percent of all spacecraft destined for Mars failed before completing their missions and some failed before their observations could begin.

Some missions have met with unexpected success, such as the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, which operated for years beyond their specification. On June 10, 2018, Opportunity rover fell silent, leaving Curiosity of the Mars Science Laboratory mission with six orbiters surveying the planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Orbiter Mission, MAVEN, and the Trace Gas Orbiter, which have contributed massive amounts of information about Mars. More Info

SOFIA ditched in NASA's Fiscal Budget


NASA’s 2021 budget released on February 10 has proposed canceling SOFIA among other terminations. Reports suggest that the mission has not delivered high-quality data products or science on par with other large science missions. The airborne observatory had received $85.2 million in 2020 appropriations bill, and $12 million now to mothball the program.

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What is SOFIA?
SOFIA or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is an 80/20 joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center to construct and maintain an airborne observatory. NASA awarded the contract for the development of the aircraft, operation of the observatory and management of the American part of the project to the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in 1996. It’s telescope saw first light on May 26, 2010.

It was developed in order to observe celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets, nebulae, and the galactic centre. It is based on a Boeing 747SP wide-body aircraft that has been modified to include a large door in the aft fuselage that can be opened in flight to allow a 2.5 m (8.2 ft) diameter reflecting telescope access to the sky. SOFIA’s flight capability allows it to rise above almost all of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks some infrared wavelengths from reaching the ground.

Axing the Project
In its budget documents, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said that SOFIA’s scientific productivity did not justify its expense and could not provide further recommendations on how to improve it’s efficiency. SOFIA is reportedly the second most expensive astrophysics mission at NASA after it received $88.3 million, behind the Hubble Space Telescope which was granted $98.3 million in 2019.

Replacement Planned
Even though astronomers are shocked at this sudden move, future projections seem promising. The James Webb Space Telescope, planned to launch in 2021, will provide data that partially mitigates the absence of SOFIA. Jim Jackson, associate director for research at the SOFIA Science Center said “We want to optimize the value proposition of the observatory.” at the town hall meeting. However it will still be more costly to operate, an estimated $172 million a year, once it enters service.


The James Webb Space Telescope is a space telescope that is planned to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The JWST will provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observing some of the most distant events and objects in the universe, such as the formation of the first galaxies. Other goals include understanding the formation of stars and planets, and direct imaging of exoplanets and novas. More Info

Lost Twin found: NASA's Voyager 2 fixed from 11.5 billion miles

Voyager 2

Mission operators reported that Voyager 2 spacecraft resumed its exploration of interstellar space earlier this week. The engineers fixed a potentially fatal glitch from 11.5 billion miles away. The health of the instruments is being further evaluated as Voyager 2 continues to be stable and is in contact with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

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Voyager 2’s Purpose
It was built in motion to accompany its twin in transforming our understanding of our stellar neighbourhood, by revealing unprecedented information about the interstellar space, beyond the Sun’s sphere of influence. Multiple fault protection routines were programmed in both, in order to allow them to automatically take actions to protect themselves if potentially harmful circumstances arose.

What Had Happened?
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 both were the most distant human-made objects to be launched in the solar system. On Jan. 25 2020, Voyager 2 ran into trouble when it didn’t execute a scheduled manoeuvre in which the spacecraft rotates 360 degrees in order to calibrate its onboard magnetic field instrument. Analysis of the telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that an unexplained delay in the onboard execution had occurred. This caused the Voyager 2 to overdraw its available power supply.

Challenges Ahead
The Voyager’s power supply comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which turns heat from the decay of radioactive material into electricity to power the spacecraft. Thus the science team has to manage both the power supply and the temperature of certain systems on the spacecraft. Communications traveling at the speed of light take about 17 hours to reach the spacecraft, and it takes another 17 hours for a response from the spacecraft to return to Earth. As a result, mission engineers have to wait about 34 hours to find out if their commands have had the desired effect on the spacecraft.


Voyager 2 is a space probe launched by NASA on August 20, 1977, to study the outer planets. Part of the Voyager program, it was launched 16 days before its twin, Voyager 1, on a trajectory that took longer to reach Jupiter and Saturn but enabled further encounters with Uranus and Neptune. It is the only spacecraft to have visited either of these two ice giant planets. Constructed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Voyager 2 includes 16 hydrazine thrusters, three-axis stabilization, gyroscopes and celestial referencing instruments (Sun sensor/Canopus Star Tracker) to maintain pointing of the high-gain antenna toward Earth. It is the fourth of five spacecraft to achieve the Solar escape velocity, which will allow it to leave the Solar System. Currently, it has begun to provide the first direct measurements of the density and temperature of the interstellar plasma. More Info