Flight 19 for NASA’s Ingenuity is scheduled to happen no sooner than Sunday, Jan. 23
The environment of Mars is far much less dense than Earth’s; nevertheless, the Mars local weather shares many similarities to Earth: seasons, altering winds, ice clouds, and mud storms, amongst others. Predicting climate occasions, as is true for Earth, is all the time an unsure endeavor. In getting ready for Flight 19, we discovered that surprising Mars climate can lead to a well-known and unlucky situation right here on Earth: a delayed flight. Luckily, Ingenuity carries no passengers, and all its baggage is “carry-on,” so the consequence is little greater than ready for higher climate.
With 18 flights accomplished so far, climate forecasting has develop into an integral piece of Martian flight planning. Because the first flight on April 19, 2021, Jezero Crater has progressed by spring and into summer season. We’re at the moment approaching the tip of summer season and the start of autumn, which begins Feb. 24. With the altering seasons come new challenges, together with a lower in air density that required modifications to how we fly.
As climate forecasters, our job is to supply an analysis of present climate circumstances in opposition to flight necessities. What are these necessities for acceptable and protected flying? Favorable circumstances hinge on two key properties: air density and wind velocity. Though we shouldn’t have the benefit of a lot of climate stations or orbiting climate satellites at Mars, as is the case on Earth, we do have various instruments at our disposal to find out if circumstances are acceptable for flight. Essentially the most helpful forecasting useful resource is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) – an working climate station aboard the Perseverance rover. Utilizing this highly effective suite of devices, we will calculate the air density and measure winds all through the day and monitor their modifications with season as we put together for future flights. We’re not with out help from orbital property, both – each the Mars Coloration Imager (MARCI) and Mars Local weather Sounder (MCS) aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) present each day updates on the state of the environment – helpful for understanding exercise outdoors of Jezero crater that would influence future climate.
As Mars transitions into autumn, we count on a rise within the quantity of mud within the environment globally; ranges will stay heightened by winter (this era of the yr is known as the “dusty season”). Mud performs a serious function in Mars’ local weather, and its characterization is very necessary for solar-powered floor property like Ingenuity. Atmospheric mud will lower the quantity of daylight that reaches Ingenuity’s photo voltaic panels, which cost the batteries wanted for flight. Moreover, mud within the environment is heated by daylight and warms the encompassing environment, leading to a discount of the already-low-density air wherein Ingenuity should fly. Members of the operations staff have been actively discussing the upcoming dusty season and the way to reply to the results of this altering atmosphere.
A robust regional mud storm appeared on the primary day of the brand new yr, encompassing Jezero crater simply as we scheduled Flight 19. The presence of this storm got here fairly early – even earlier than the dusty season historically begins! In truth, now we have by no means seen a storm of this power so early within the Mars yr earlier than. The primary indicators of the approaching mud storm had been noticed by Perseverance, which noticed elevated mud lifting inside Jezero crater. In orbit, MRO captured photographs of this rising regional mud storm, which confirmed indicators of enlargement from the southern hemisphere into the northern hemisphere – doubtlessly in direction of Jezero crater. Our climate forecast staff needed to decide to go ahead with the flight or not. The info we analyze from MEDA and orbital property can have a lag of some hours to a couple days, and so we needed to make a forecast for Flight 19 a number of days into the long run. It was clear that there was appreciable uncertainty on the horizon. The climate staff really useful delaying Flight 19, which was in the end adopted by the Ingenuity staff (Flight 19 initially scheduled for Jan. 5, 2022, or Perseverance mission sol 313).
The grounding of Ingenuity proved to be the proper determination. Within the days following the flight delay, the mud storm moved over Jezero crater, and we had been in a position to clearly see its results in each MEDA information and from orbit (Determine 1). Most notable was a pointy drop in air density – a few 7% deviation under what was noticed pre-dust storm. This noticed lower would have put density under the decrease threshold of protected flight and would have imparted undue danger to the spacecraft. We additionally noticed the impact of mud within the quantity of daylight absorbed by Ingenuity’s photo voltaic array, which fell effectively under regular “clear sky” ranges, a drop of about 18%.
The mud storm has dissipated, and proper now, it’s wanting like we’ll fly Ingenuity no sooner than this Sunday, Jan. 23. The mud storm and its influence on planning is a vital studying expertise for your complete staff. Future occasions later within the dusty season are anticipated and have the potential to develop into global-scale storms like these noticed most lately in 2018, 2007, and 2001. We are going to stay diligent in our efforts to soundly fly Ingenuity for the foreseeable future.