NASA’s JPL to Launch Two More Mars Helicopters

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him

This illustration shows a concept for multiple robots that would team up to ferry to Earth samples of rock and soil collected from the Martian surface by NASA's Mars Perseverance rover.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars helicopter experiment worked so nicely they had to do it twice.


When NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena landed its rover nicknamed Perseverance on the surface of Mars one year ago, it carried a prototype solar-powered helicopter named Ingenuity. The interstellar helicopter has since performed 29 flights on Mars following its historic first takeoff last April, providing scientists with valuable and previously never seen drone footage of the planet.

NASA has been sending four wheeled robots or rovers to Mars since it first landed the Sojourner in 1997. This new mission has two goals: exploring one of Earth’s closest neighboring planets and also gathering samples to take home for analysis – part of the JPL’s Mars Sample Return Program.

NASA said this week that the Perseverance Rover is currently collecting samples near Mars’ Jezero Crater. But the JPL just decided the success of the early Ingenuity flights indicated it could do more testing and sample collection from the air.

Partnering with the European Space Agency, NASA and the JPL will swap the planned Sample Fetch Rover for two helicopters that are based on Ingenuity’s design.

“There are some significant and advantageous changes to the plan, which can be directly attributed to Perseverance’s recent successes at Jezero and the amazing performance of our Mars helicopter,” NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a statement Thursday.

The new mission is still in its conceptual design phase. In simplified terms, here’s how the revised plan will go down: NASA’s Sample Retrieval Lander will land on Mars, carrying a small rocket called the Mars Ascent Vehicle. The existing Perseverance Rover and new helicopters will collect samples of Martian soil and rocks and then put them into sealed tubes that the Mars Ascent Vehicle can ferry back to Earth, where scientists will eagerly be awaiting their arrival.

The Sample Retrieval Lander won’t launch until at least summer of 2028, NASA said. We can’t expect to see samples from that upcoming mission back on Earth until at least 2033.

That lengthy commute is a small trade-off considering the valuable information about the Red Planet that NASA could extract from the samples. It could go a long way towards, say, figuring out if we really could grow potatoes on Mars and sustain life on the planet.

Ingenuity was supposed to be just a test vehicle, but it outperformed the JPL’s expectations. It has proven to NASA, and the larger world, that Mars helicopters are actually a viable way to gain valuable insights about Mars and—perhaps—our other neighbors in the solar system.

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Cadence

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Rivian Q2 Earnings Are a Much-Needed Nothing Burger

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

Rivian R1S at a charging station in the desert.
Rivian's Q2 numbers are delightfully boring.

Rivian, the fledgling electric vehicle startup in Irvine, CA, released its Q2 earnings yesterday. I’m happy to report they’re pretty boring! There were no big surprises from RJ Scaringe’s EV hopeful, but here are the report highlights:

  • ~$15 billion of cash, cash equivalents, and restricted cash as of June 30 2022.
  • 98,000 net R1 preorders
  • Amazon has ordered 100,000 electric delivery vans
  • Rivian has produced 8k vehicles so far
  • The company is still on pace to deliver 25,000 vehicles in 2022
  • -Actual revenue was $364 million.
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