It has been a week of heightened apprehension on the Mars Helicopter team as we prepared a major flight challenge for Ingenuity. We uplinked instructions for the flight, which occurred Monday, July 5 at 2:03 am PT, and waited nervously for results to arrive from Mars later that morning. The mood in the ground control room was jubilant when we learned that Ingenuity was alive and well after completing a journey spanning 2,051 feet (625 meters) of challenging terrain.
Flight 9 was not like the flights that came before it. It broke our records for flight duration and cruise speed, and it nearly quadrupled the distance flown between two airfields. But what really set the flight apart was the terrain that Ingenuity had to negotiate during its 2 minutes and 46 seconds in the air – an area called “Séítah” that would be difficult to traverse with a ground vehicle like the Perseverance rover. This flight was also explicitly designed to have science value by providing the first close view of major science targets that the rover will not reach for quite some time.
The Séítah region on Mars, filled with rocks and sand dunes, was too treacherous for NASA’s Perseverance rover to drive across. So Ingenuity, the tiny helicopter accompanying the rover, flew over the area on Monday and snapped some photos of a key spot on the other side. In less than three minutes, Ingenuity spared Perseverance the months it would have had to spend driving to take its own photos.
The quick Monday morning jump across Séítah was Ingenuity’s ninth flight on Mars so far, but it marked the first time the chopper lent a helping hand to Perseverance in its hunt for ancient signs of life at the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater. The four-pound helicopter arrived on Mars on February 14th, attached to Perseverance’s underside, and became the first object to take powered flight on another world on April 19th. Its initial set of flights served as increasingly complex practice tests to demonstrate how off-world rotorcraft can buzz around places that wheeled rovers can’t go.
But on Monday, NASA engineers pushed Ingenuity’s limits further than ever. In 166 seconds, Ingenuity flew roughly 11mph for almost a half-mile, or 2,050 feet — a far greater distance than its most recent flight in June, which tallied 525 feet. The copter buzzed around different corners of Séítah and snapped photos of its borders, where junctures between different rock formations — called contacts, in geology lingo — make for some of the most scientifically intriguing targets in Perseverance’s hunt for fossilized microbial life.
April 19th saw what some have christened “a second Wright Brothers moment”—namely, the successful first powered controlled flight by an aircraft on another world. Reaching Mars on the underside of the Perseverance rover, the tiny, autonomous Mars Ingenuity Helicopter (5.4" x 7.7" x 6.4") spun its 4-foot rotors and hovered 10 feet off the ground for 30 seconds. By its third flight, a few days later, Ingenuity would rise 16 feet (5 meters) up, and fly 164 feet (50 meters) at a top speed of 6.6 ft/sec (2 m/sec). Back in 1903, the Wright Brothers logged 120 feet to complete the first controlled heavier-than-air powered flight. Now, squaring that circle, Ingenuity carries a piece of fab-ric from the Wright Flyer’s wing, and its flight site is called Wright Brothers Field.
Six weeks and six flights into its mission as we write, Ingenuity has demonstrated the ability to fly on a planet more than 170 million miles from earth in an atmosphere 1% as thick as ours. The near-miniature ve-hicle has proved to be an intrepid explorer even as it’s survived a computer anomaly on its most recent mission. Talk about punching above your weight.
On Friday, May 7, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter left both Wright Brothers Field and the Perseverance Rover behind. Flying for 110 seconds, Ingenuity traveled 423 feet at a new height of 33 feet, capturing high resolution color images before landing at its new Red Planet home, which bears the tepid but significant name Airfield B. Ingenuity had become an operational scout in addition to its original role as a technology demonstrator.
In previous reports, key members of the AeroVironment team talked with Inside Unmanned Systems about the company’s development of Ingenuity’s airframe and some major subsystems, its collaborations with NASA, JPL and other aviation/aerospace companies, and the challenges involved with learning to fly in Mars’ rarified atmosphere.
Join us for a replay of our Mars Helicopter press event that includes the unveiling of the Earth Copter, the only working twin of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter that can fly in Earth’s gravity and atmosphere. This event includes a demo of the Earth Copter and the Nano Hummingbird along with Q&A.
We first told you about the tiny helicopter Ingenuity and the one-ton rover Perseverance nearly a year ago before they left Earth, but they've come a very long way since then. In February, they landed in a hazardous and previously unexplored part of Mars called the Jezero Crater, where Perseverance will be looking for signs of ancient life. Last month, Ingenuity disconnected from Perseverance's belly and made history -- performing the first flights ever in the atmosphere of another planet. It's hard to imagine but worth remembering as you watch what we're about to show you, that this all happened millions of miles away, in outer space.
When it comes to flying high, AeroVironment has led the way in sustained solar-powered, high-altitude flight with projects dating back more than 40 years. Building on its pioneering innovations — Gossamer Condor, Solar Challenger, Pathfinder Plus, and Helios — AeroVironment advanced these earlier technologies to develop a solar-powered, high-altitude platform station (HAPS) named Sunglider™.
“These earlier innovations made significant contributions to the current HAPS aircraft,” said Bob Curtin, HAPS business development director. “I think it’s reasonable to say that the development of today’s HAPS aircraft started with the Gossamer Condor in 1977.”
As of Friday, April 30 (local time), the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter had completed its fourth successful flight, exceeding expectations and moving from being a technical to an operational demonstrator.
In Part One of “Inside Ingenuity with AeroVironment—Designing It,” key personnel from the company talked about designing and developing Ingenuity’s airframe and some of its major subsystems, including its rotor blades and hub and control mechanism hardware. They also discussed how AeroVironment worked with JPL, Lockheed Martin and others to integrate its work into a vehicle capable of reaching and operating on Mars.
Now, in Part Two—”Challenges Overcome”—the engineering team recalls surmounting obstacles so Ingenuity and its 4-foot rotor blades could master the ultra-thin atmosphere of the red planet.
Transaction combines leaders in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) for broader, integrated mission solutions in air, near-space, ground and maritime domains
Acquisition expected to be accretive within two years to AeroVironment GAAP EPS, and accretive to non-GAAP EPS in fiscal year 2022
AeroVironment competing for multi-year United States Air Force Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) robotic system program
SIMI VALLEY, Calif., May 4, 2021 – AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV), a global leader in intelligent, multi-domain robotic systems, today announced it was granted clearance from the German government and completed the previously announced acquisition of Telerob Gesellschaft für Fernhantierungstechnik mbH (Telerob), in a $45.4 million (€37.5 million) cash transaction and the pay-off of approximately $9.4 million (€7.8 million) in Telerob’s debt at closing. Telerob now operates as a wholly-owned subsidiary of AeroVironment.
April 19th saw what some have christened “a second Wright Brothers moment”—namely, the successful first powered controlled flight by an aircraft on another world. Reaching Mars on the underside of the Perseverance rover, the tiny, autonomous Mars Ingenuity Helicopter (5.4’ x 7.7’ x 6.4”) spun its 4-foot rotors and hovered 10 feet off the ground for 30 seconds.
Switchblade 600 features high-precision optics, more than 40 minutes of loitering endurance and an anti-armor warhead for engaging and prosecuting hardened static and moving light armored vehicles
Integration of Switchblade 600 into maritime platforms enables precision engagements against naval and littoral threats and greater deployment flexibility
SIMI VALLEY, Calif., April 27, 2021 – AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV), a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), today announced it was awarded a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract on March 31, 2021 by the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) for $26,120,810 with $7,159,036 funded upon receipt. The contract includes delivery and integration of Switchblade® 600 tactical missile systems into specialized maritime platforms, scheduled to be completed by January 2023.
In connection with the C4ISRNET Virtual Conference - AeroVironment’s Scott Newbern talks with Rose Shilling (Editor, C4ISRNET) about Drones at the Edge, and how intelligent unmanned robotics are being used in innovative ways across multiple domains.
Award for contractor logistics support approved through Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement, reflecting high priority requirement and strong user demand from the frontline
Funded value for contractor logistics support is $13,010,560 with a total potential contract value of $40,852,467
SIMI VALLEY, Calif., April 22, 2021 – AeroVironment, Inc. (NASDAQ: AVAV), a global leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), today announced it received a $13,010,560 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract order on March 24, 2021 from the U.S. Army for Switchblade® 300 tactical missile systems contractor logistics support. The contract has a total potential value of $40,852,467, for which funding was authorized via a DoD-approved Joint Urgent Operational Need Statement. Logistics support services are scheduled to be delivered through March 2024.