NASA’s testing of future aircraft designs is both earthly and out of this world. Here on Earth, the agency is testing carbon fiber rotor blades for the next-generation Mars helicopters while on Mars, performance limits of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter are also being stretched and assessed.
The new carbon fiber rotor blades being tested here on Earth are an updated version of the blades being used on Ingenuity. Four inches longer than the current blades, the new blades are also stronger than the standard blades which NASA engineers believe will allow larger and more capable Mars helicopters.
With concerns about turbulence caused by vibration at supersonic speeds, the NASA team turned to the Jet Propulsion Lab’s (JPL) 25-foot wide by 85-foot-tall space simulator to conduct testing of the blades in a low gravity thin atmosphere mimicking Mars.
“We spun our blades up to 3,500 rpm, which is 750 revolutions per minute faster than the Ingenuity blades have gone,” said Tyler Del Sesto, Sample Recovery Helicopter deputy test conductor at JPL. “These more efficient blades are now more than a hypothetical exercise. They are ready to fly.”
Meanwhile on Mars, NASA has been testing Ingenuity’s limits by doubling maximum airspeed and altitude and practicing slower landings. Results of these tests will advise the design of future Mars helicopters.
“Our next-generation Mars helicopter testing has literally had the best of both worlds,” said Ingenuity’s project manager and manager for the Mars Sample Recovery Helicopters, Teddy Tzanetos. “Here on Earth, you have all the instrumentation and hands-on immediacy you could hope for while testing new aircraft components. On Mars, you have the real off-world conditions you could never truly re-create here on Earth.”