NASA’s JPL to Launch Two More Mars Helicopters

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and 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 @Samsonamore.

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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'The Writing's on the Wall': Electric Batteries' Rapid Progress May Have Just Doomed Natural Gas Trucks

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

'The Writing's on the Wall': Electric Batteries' Rapid Progress May Have Just Doomed Natural Gas Trucks
Image from Tesla

Last month, when dot.LA toured the Hexagon Purus facility in Ontario, California, multiple employees bemoaned the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) ruling on renewable natural gas (RNG) as a hindrance to decarbonizing trucking-haul trucking. They argued that keeping RNG classified as a “near-zero emission” fuel prevented companies using financial incentives like the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project, which, as the name suggests, is only available to true zero-emission trucks. The effect, they said, was that the agency was missing an opportunity to accelerate the state’s transition away from diesel.

But over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to announce that the EV company’s battery powered class 8 semi-truck had completed a 500-mile trip fully loaded (to the tune of 81,000 lbs). It now appears CARB’s refusal to classify renewable natural gas (RNG) as a zero-emission fuel source was ultimately the right decision.

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Hoopla’s Deron Quon on Keeping Perspective as a Founder

Minnie Ingersoll
Minnie Ingersoll is a partner at TenOneTen and host of the LA Venture podcast. Prior to TenOneTen, Minnie was the COO and co-founder of $100M+ Shift.com, an online marketplace for used cars. Minnie started her career as an early product manager at Google. Minnie studied Computer Science at Stanford and has an MBA from HBS. She recently moved back to L.A. after 20+ years in the Bay Area and is excited to be a part of the growing tech ecosystem of Southern California. In her space time, Minnie surfs baby waves and raises baby people.
Hoopla’s Deron Quon
Image courtesy of Deron Quon.

On this episode of the L.A. Venture podcast, serial founder and angel investor Deron Quon discusses the human side of entrepreneurship and how a founder’s ethos can impact company culture.

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