United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. ULA was formed in December 2006 by combining the teams at these companies which provide spacecraft launch services to the government of the United States. ULA launches from both coasts of the US. They launch their Atlas V vehicle from LC-41 in Cape Canaveral and LC-3E at Vandeberg. Their Delta IV launches from LC-37 at Cape Canaveral and LC-6 at Vandenberg.
Atop this ULA Atlas V rocket will be Perseverance, a car-sized rover which will explore an ancient river delta on Mars. Armed with a suite of six scientific instruments, Perseverance will primarily hunt for clues to the planet's distant past, and hopefully uncover signs of ancient life and habitability. The rover also carries an experiment that'll convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, a box-sized helicopter named Ingenuity that'll demonstrate powered flight on Mars, and a system that enables the rover to leave behind samples for later retrieval and return to Earth during NASA and ESA's ambitious sample return mission later this decade.
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will land in the Jezero crater using a MSL-inspired sky-crane at approximately 20:55 UTC. It will investigate an astrobiologically relevant ancient environment on Mars and investigate its surface geological processes and history, including the assessment of its past habitability, the possibility of past life on Mars, and the potential for preservation of biosignatures within accessible geological materials. It will cache sample containers along its route for a potential future Mars sample-return mission. Perseverance is also ferrying several cutting-edge technologies to the surface of Mars – including a helicopter named Ingenuity, the first aircraft to attempt powered, controlled flight on another planet.
For its second flight, the Ingenuity helicopter will climb to 16 feet (5 meters) and, after hovering briefly, it will go into a slight tilt and move sideways for 7 feet (2 meters). Then Ingenuity will come to a stop, hover in place, and make turns to point its color camera in different directions before heading back to the center of the airfield to land.
For its third flight, the Ingenuity helicopter will climb to an altitude of 5 meters and reach an airspeed of 2 meters per second heading 50 meters north and back for a total flight time of about 80 seconds and a total distance of 100 meters.
Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight, climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) before flying south approximately 436 feet (133 meters) and then back, for an 872-foot (266-meter) round trip. In total, it was in the air for 117 seconds.
Ingenuity took off at Wright Brothers Field – the same spot where the helicopter took off and touched back down on all the other flights – but it landed elsewhere, which is another first for the rotorcraft. Ingenuity climbed to 16 feet (5 meters), then retraced its course from flight four, heading south 423 feet (129 meters). But instead of turning around and heading back, it actually climbed to a new height record of 33 feet (10 meters), where it took some color (as well as black-and-white) images of the area. After a total flight time of about 110 seconds, Ingenuity landed, completing its first one-way trip.
On the 91st Martian day, or sol, of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter performed its sixth flight. The flight was designed to expand the flight envelope and demonstrate aerial-imaging capabilities by taking stereo images of a region of interest to the west. Ingenuity was commanded to climb to an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) before translating 492 feet (150 meters) to the southwest at a ground speed of 9 mph (4 meters per second). At that point, it was to translate 49 feet (15 meters) to the south while taking images toward the west, then fly another 164 feet (50 meters) northeast and land. Telemetry from Flight Six shows that the first 150-meter leg of the flight went off without a hitch. But toward the end of that leg, something happened: Ingenuity began adjusting its velocity and tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern. This behavior persisted throughout the rest of the flight. Prior to landing safely, onboard sensors indicated the rotorcraft encountered roll and pitch excursions of more than 20 degrees, large control inputs, and spikes in power consumption. Despite encountering this anomaly, Ingenuity was able to maintain flight and land safely on the surface within approximately 16 feet (5 meters) of the intended landing location.
The next flight of Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will take it to a new base of operations about 106 meters south of its current location. This will mark the second time the helicopter will land at an airfield that it did not survey from the air during a previous flight. Instead, the Ingenuity team is relying on imagery collected by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that suggests this new base of operations is relatively flat and has few surface obstructions.