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Perseverance will explore history of ancient lake

Science

Last week, NASA's $2.7 billion Perseverance rover made a picture-perfect landing on the floor of Mars's Jezero crater, which scientists believe was filled to the brim with water 3.8 billion years ago. Two kilometers away looms the rover's primary target: a fossilized river delta, created as muddy water spilled into the crater—ideal for preserving signs of life. But before Perseverance starts the long climb up into the delta, to drill samples that will eventually be returned to Earth, it will examine the rocks beneath its six aluminum wheels. The rover landed near outcrops of rock layers that may have originally been laid down before and after the lake and the delta. The NASA team will probe them for clues to the nature and timing of the brief period when water flowed—and life might have flourished. Even the first images returned to Earth, grainy and taken from the underneath the rover, left the team elated, says Katie Stack Morgan, the mission's deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “We have enough for the scientists to really sink their teeth into.” The rover's arrival at Mars was filled with nail-biting drama, even as the precise, autonomous descent unfolded like clockwork. After the spacecraft plunged by parachute through the thin air, a rocket-propelled hovercraft took over, seeking a boulder-free spot before lowering the rover from nylon cords. The final moments, captured in breathtaking detail by cameras below the hovercraft, show the rover landing in a cloud of dust. “We did have a pretty clean run,” says Allen Chen, head of the rover's landing team at JPL, in a dry understatement. “It did what it had to do.” The touchdown marks NASA's ninth successful landing on the martian surface out of 10 tries. ![Figure][1] GRAPHIC: C. BICKEL/ SCIENCE After 3 days, the rover had executed 5000 commands and scientific instruments were certifying their health, says Jessica Samuels, an engineer and mission manager at JPL. “Everything is coming back exactly how we want it to.” The rover raised its camera mast 2 meters above the surface to capture a panorama of its surroundings. After several days updating software, the team plans to wiggle the rover's wheels and conduct a short test drive. The rover will also extend its five-jointed, 2-meter-long robotic arm, which carries the rover's coring drill and several more cameras, and put it through some calisthenics. A second robotic arm, designed to manipulate a cache of dust and rock samples inside the rover, will be run through its paces. Stored in 43 ultraclean tubes, those samples represent the start of a multibillion-dollar, multinational effort to collect martian rocks and return them for analysis on Earth; two follow-up missions to retrieve the samples are planned for later this decade ( Science , 22 November 2019, p. [932][2]). Within its first 2 years, the rover is expected to fill nearly half the tubes on its trek of more than 10 kilometers to the crater's rim. The rest will be filled in an extended mission, as the rover trundles beyond the crater to ancient highlands thought to have once held geothermal springs. Perseverance's primary mission is to search for evidence of past life, captured in the delta mudstones and other rocks likely to preserve organic molecules—or even fossilized life. But interpreting this evidence will also require a better understanding of Mars's climatic past, from clues that can be collected right away by the rover. The first opportunity to drill a sample could come within a few months, on the flat, pebble-strewn terrain where Perseverance landed. Some scientists believe these rocks are from an ancient lava flow that erupted long after the lake disappeared, arguing that they look the way Hawaiian flows might if bombarded by meteorites and whipped by winds for several billion years. But when Perseverance's predecessor, the Curiosity rover, explored similar rocks in Gale crater and its ancient lake, most of what scientists had thought were lava fields turned out to be sedimentary rocks: ground up volcanic bits ferried by water and deposited in layers, presumably in the vanished lake. The early pictures from Perseverance are difficult to interpret: Rocks riddled with holes could be pumice, porous from gas escaping from cooling lava, or they could be sedimentary rocks, perforated over time by water. Bigger boulders in the distance look like ancient volcanic rocks: dark and coated by a light-colored dust. Fortunately, Perseverance's scientific instruments are designed to pin down the rocks' origin. Cameras on the mast could spy distinctive angular striped layers, called cross-bedding, that only form when deposited as sediments. A camera mounted on the end of the rover's robotic arm for microscopic views could capture the grain of minerals: Sedimentary rocks, for example, are typically rounded by their watery travels. Two other instruments on the arm will fire x-rays and ultraviolet laser light at rock samples, provoking reactions that could reveal chemical fingerprints of volcanic or sedimentary rocks. It's a crucial distinction. If the rocks are volcanic—either lava deposits or, more likely, ash from a distant eruption—they'll contain trace radioactive elements that decay at a certain rate, so when samples are returned to Earth, lab scientists could date the eruption and put a bound on the age of the lake. Any date will also help pin down the highly uncertain overall martian timeline, currently dated by counting the number of craters on a given terrain. (Older surfaces are pocked with more craters.) Sampling such a volcanic rock would “provide a critical anchor to the timing of events we are looking at,” says Ken Farley, the mission's project scientist and a geologist at the California Institute of Technology. The rover's initial path is likely to cross another intriguing target just 250 meters away on the crater floor: outcrops that, from orbit, appear rich in both olivine, a volcanic mineral, and carbonates, which can form when olivine is exposed to water and carbon dioxide. If this layer is volcanic ash from an eruption that preceded the Jezero lake, radioactive dates from it and the potential volcanic layer deposited on the lakebed should bracket the lake's existence in time. Moreover, isotopes of oxygen in the carbonates could reveal the temperature of the water that formed the mineral; balmy water would suggest Mars was once warm and wet for millions of years at a time, whereas water near freezing would argue for sporadic bursts of warmth. The carbonate might even contain gas bubbles—samples of the ancient martian atmosphere, which could allow scientists to see whether it held methane or other greenhouse gases that would have warmed early Mars. “That obviously would be game changing,” says Timothy Goudge, a planetary scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, who led the team that made the case for Jezero as a landing site. There will be no drilling at the landing site itself. But there will be flying. After the monthlong commissioning phase is over, the team will find a nearby, flat spot to loose the 1.8-kilogram Ingenuity helicopter, which survived the landing attached to the rover's belly. With a fuselage the size of a tissue box, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, a bid to fly a rotor-powered vehicle on another planet for the first time. After being dropped to the surface, the helicopter will furiously spin its rotors to ascend 3 meters in the air for 20 seconds. Four additional, higher flights could follow, over a total of 30 days, says MiMi Aung, Ingenuity's project manager at JPL. On later flights the helicopter could collect reconnaissance images for terrain off the rover's main path. “It will be truly a Wright brothers moment,” Aung says, “but on another planet.” [1]: pending:yes [2]: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/366/6468/932


U.S. orders deeper testing after engine scare on Boeing plane

The Japan Times

New York – The U.S. aviation regulator on Tuesday ordered a deeper inspection of the engines similar to the ones on a Boeing 777 aircraft that suffered a spectacular failure over Denver days earlier. The incident, in which a Pratt & Whitney engine burst into flames and scattered debris over a Denver suburb shortly after takeoff for Honolulu, led to scores of Boeing 777s being grounded worldwide over safety concerns. "U.S. operators of airplanes equipped with certain Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines (must) inspect these engines before further flight," the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said. The regulator said it was issuing the order "as a result of a fan-blade failure that occurred Saturday on a Boeing 777-200 that had just departed from Denver International Airport." Before they can return to the skies, "operators must conduct a thermal acoustic image (TAI) inspection of the large titanium fan blades located at the front of each engine. TAI technology can detect cracks on the interior surfaces of the hollow fan blades, or in areas that cannot be seen during a visual inspection," it said in a statement.


Mars rover Perseverance's high-tech mission to the red planet – TechCrunch

#artificialintelligence

Update: Perseverance is safe on the surface of Mars! The headline has been updated to reflect the news. There will be one more robot on Mars tomorrow afternoon. The Perseverance rover will touch down just before 1:00 PM Pacific, beginning a major new expedition to the planet and kicking off a number of experiments -- from a search for traces of life to the long-awaited Martian helicopter. Here's what you can expect from Perseverance tomorrow and over the next few years.


The first helicopter on Mars phones home and confirms it is operating as expected

Daily Mail - Science & tech

The helicopter sent to Mars by NASA to explore the Red Planet from the sky has'phoned home' and is working great, according to the space agency. Named Ingenuity, it rode to Mars strapped to the belly of the car-sized Perseverance rover that will trundle along the Jezero crater in search of ancient alien life. NASA mission control in Southern California received the first status report from Ingenuity late on Friday via the space-based Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Ingenuity will remain attached the belly of Perseverance for between 30 and 60 days before it detaches and makes its maiden flight - assuming it survives the brutal average -90C overnight temperatures found on the Red Planet. NASA shared an exciting image shot by the sky crane that shows Perseverance, nicknamed Perky, slung beneath and attached to mechanical bridals – moments before making landfall. The downlink confirmed that the helicopter, and an electrical box on the rover that routes and stores communications with Earth, were both performing as expected.


Everything we hope to learn from 3 historic missions to Mars

Mashable

With missions from three nations expected to reach the Red Planet this month, 2021 might be the most illuminating year in the history of Mars research. Earthlings have been sending probes and robots to and near Mars since the 1960s, and dozens have successfully captured images and data about the planet, gradually revealing its desert mysteries. We've learned a bit about its geology and atmosphere, found ice, and uncovered compelling evidence that Mars was once home to blue oceans. The looming missions will search for evidence of past life on Mars, gather a complete picture of the planet's weather systems, prepare soil samples to be picked up by a future mission, and even attempt the first flight on Mars (via a small helicopter). From the United States comes Perseverance, NASA's fifth Mars rover.


Delta expanding facial recognition technology to domestic flights in Detroit

FOX News

Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what's clicking on Foxnews.com. Delta Air Lines is bringing facial recognition technology to domestic flights. Last week, the airline announced that it is launching its digital ID technology for domestic flights out of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Delta previously debuted the technology in 2018 for international flights.


What Secretary Pete's confirmation means for drone regulation

ZDNet

Following now-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's confirmation this week, the enterprise drone sector is abuzz over what the next four years may bring in terms of drone regulation. The FAA has taken a methodical and decidedly cautious approach to enterprise drone restrictions, but over the last few months, and on the heels of substantial testing and stakeholder outreach, the agency has begun to put in place a regulatory framework to guide more robust adoption of unmanned commercial drones over populated areas. Of course, many in the industry feel the agency can do more to encourage a sector that could be worth more than $43 billion globally over the next few years. Which brings us back to the man known affectionately for the past few years as Mayor Pete. The 39-year-old doesn't have a track record in federal transportation regulation, but industry insiders are reading the tea leaves of his Navy Reserve experience and infrastructure oversight as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and there's reasons to be hopeful.


Google seeks FAA approval to test fire-fighting drones

ZDNet

Google this week asked the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to test out the use of drones for monitoring and fighting fires. The request comes as the FAA slowly expands sanctioned drone use in the US. Specifically, Google's Research Climate and Energy Group said it wants to run tests using the HSE-UAV M8A Pro unmanned aircraft system -- a crop-spraying drone built by Homeland Surveillance & Electronics. The Google Research group plans to test fire-fighting and monitoring operations at a private property in Firebaugh, California. Google's sister company, the Alphabet-owned Wing, already has FAA approval to test out commercial drone deliveries.


Flying robots get FAA approval in first for drone sector

ZDNet

The FAA has authorized its first-ever approval to a company for use of automated drones without human operators on site. The move comes as the agency is putting new rules in place to evolve regulation of the broader enterprise drone paradigm in the U.S., which has lagged behind other developed nations in adopting industry-friendly commercial drone guidelines. Boston-based American Robotics, a developer of automated drone systems specializing in rugged environments, received the FAA approval last week, marking a first for the federal agency. "Decades worth of promise and projection are finally coming to fruition," says Reese Mozer, CEO and co-founder of American Robotics. "We are proud to be the first company to meet the FAA's comprehensive safety requirements, which had previously restricted the viability of drone use in the commercial sector."


FAA approves first commercial drone flights with no on-site pilots

Engadget

Farms and other agricultural operations in certain rural areas in the US can now use robotic drones to take images of or gather data on their crops. The FAA has approved Massachusetts-based American Robotics' request to be able to deploy automated drones without human pilots and spotters on site. As The Wall Street Journal notes, commercial drone flights typically require the physical presence of licensed pilots making them a costly undertaking. AR's machine eliminates the need for on-site personnel, though each automated flight will still need to be overseen by a remote human pilot. According to the relevant documents (via The Verge) the FAA has uploaded on its website, the pilot "who is not co-located with the aircraft" will have to conduct pre-flight safety checks to ensure the drone is in working condition.