“The Mars 2020 mission was a milestone not only for technology and science, but for humanity in general.” That’s how Qualcomm’s directors define one of the most daring projects of recent years. Through a virtual conference, TecMundo was invited to talk with two professionals who participated directly in this entire engineering plan.
Although the Perseverance rover landed on Mars on February 18, the research and studies to make it happen have been going on for years. Since mid-2013, the details of the task began to be thought up not only by NASA, but by scientists around the world.
The global effort to take the robot to the red planet aims to search for signs of ancient life and collect soil samples for future shipment to Earth. The seven-month space journey was a relief for those involved in the project.
“Everything about the Mars 2020 Mission was very challenging. But the collaboration between the US government, NASA and Qualcomm was a key factor in making the mission successful, ”argued Chris Pruetting, senior director of Business Development for Government Technologies at Qualcomm.
The company participated in the activity supplying the technology – mainly the chip – for the Ingenuity, a helicopter that traveled coupled to Perseverance. The flying object will make 5 test flights on Mars to better analyze and understand the planet’s atmosphere.
“We need to carry out these tests to find out if the helicopter will not be stuck in the sand, for example. We rehearsed so that he can even get into caves, but we need to put that into practice, ”said Dev Singh, Director of Business Development in Autonomous Robotics, Drones and Intelligent Machines at Qualcomm.
Tests and discussions
Chris and Dev reveal that participating in the project is a source of great pride and a unique experience. However, it was not just for animation that the experiment was conducted; on the contrary, a lot of hard work was needed.
They say that the process was complex and that in order to reach the result, much attention was paid to the quality of the materials used. Dev recalls, for example, that the radiation from Mars was one of the points of attention of the various teams of technicians.
“We did many flight tests in the year 2019 in chambers that simulate the atmosphere of Mars. They were essential for us to understand some difficulties such as communication, which is not the same as in the Earth’s environment ”, exemplified Chris.
Despite the tests in the last two years, Qualcomm started working on the equipment around 2014. The processor chosen to equip Ingenuity was the Snapdragon 801, famously known to people who had a Samsung Galaxy S5, Moto X or Sony Xperia Z3.
The version integrated with the helicopter, however, has been modified to meet space demands. The platform is more energy efficient, for example, to show that it is possible to take a guided flight from more than 60 million kilometers away.
“Technology was at the center of everything we did and it’s amazing how the project has evolved over the past six years or so. In that sense, working with JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) was essential, ”recalled Chris.
Qualcomm’s directors were sincere and said they take it one step at a time; therefore, they did not speak about planned missions for the next few years.
“There is a lot of energy involved in this and even here on Earth we are already dealing with real problems of drones that operate on farms, for example,” said Chris. “This is our mission now, but many more will come,” promised Dev.
Nothing was said about when the first flight with Ingenuity should take place and both explained that in the next 30 days the issue will be evaluated. As to why there will only be 5 flights, Dev argued that this is a demonstration mission and that making a flight would be a major step forward.
Finally, both of them went back to extolling the historical fact that we are experiencing at the moment and how it will impact the world. Chris defended that the trend is that everything will become less expensive in the future and that particularly drones will be very useful parts in the daily lives of billions of people.
For aficionados, Dev mentioned that Ingenuity is like the 1997 Sojourner rover. “If everything goes well, we will also change the way space exploration is done,” he concluded.