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Flying a helicopter on Mars is no easy feat. With nights that reach -90 degrees Celsius combined with a gravity level that’s 62.5% less than we’re used to, Mars isn’t exactly the most hospitable environment for flight. But that didn’t stop Qualcomm Technologies and NASA/JPL from launching one of the greatest collaborations in space flight history: the first autonomous flight on Mars.
Even though the Qualcomm Flight™ Platform wasn’t originally developed for space travel, it had the power and features that NASA/JPL needed, including powerful autonomous operation features, making it the right choice to tackle some of the greatest challenges of this historic flight.
We know you want to know everything about the Mars Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter. So we asked the Snapdragon Insiders community which topics you wanted to know more about, then tapped our experts— Kim Koro, SVP & Division President, Qualcomm Government Technologies, plus Dev Singh who heads up our Robotics, Drones & Intelligent Machines team, and Chris Pruetting from our Strategic Operations team—to take you behind the scenes on our mission to Mars.These are the topics that got the highest votes. If you’re craving even more details about our mission to Mars, you can get the inside scoop here.
Why did JPL choose the Qualcomm Flight Platform over others?
JPL chose the Qualcomm Flight Platform for a few key reasons: First, our “flight by sight” uses a suite of sensors for altitude and accelerometer to guide flight. Also, our extremely low power profile could perform the highly complex analysis to provide autonomous flight, all while surviving the freezing night, solar charging, receiving and sending instructions back and forth from earth, and on top of that, getting enough power in the batteries to survive another Martian night. That’s a lot of power required of a tiny chip.
How is Qualcomm Flight Platform technology being used on Ingenuity and Perseverance?
JPL was able to use our off-the-shelf platform on Ingenuity and Perseverance. The standard, commercial version of the Qualcomm Flight platform includes four cameras and a suite of sensors for non-GPS based flying based in visual inertial odometry. These functions fit what JPL had envisioned for its sophisticated flight algorithms that needed all this data input, and fast computational engine for very low power.
What’s something fun or unique that happens behind the scenes on flight launch days?
One unexpected thing we learned was the importance of peanuts for the commencement of every mission flight. It started decades ago on the Ranger 7 mission. The first six attempts were unsuccessful. Before the seventh attempt, peanuts were passed out to relieve anxiety of the team. The seventh attempt was a success, and the peanuts became a good luck charm. Since then, there have been very few missions where they didn’t have peanuts on hand, but when they weren’t, they experienced flight issues. Now, they always make sure to stock up on peanuts, and you can bet they had them on hand for the Mars 2020 mission.
What part of the mission are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the partnership and collaboration between Qualcomm and JPL. Our team worked in a way that gave JPL full confidence in commercial technology and the insights they needed to ensure mission success. By using an early engagement point with commercial industry, governments can dramatically shift the cycle of change and innovation. The cycle shrank from almost 20 to 5 years – that’s incredible! This partnership proved how vitally important private/public partnership is to make the impossible possible.
We sat down with Kim Koro and got to know a bit more about her, including her favorite beer. Cheers!
What energizes you at work?
Being around so many brilliant people that have such a passion for our country and our technology.
What's the best piece of career advice you've received?
Never stop learning, always learn from those around you, and continue to do your own growing and understanding.
When you think back on your career, what is an accomplishment that you're really proud of?
Never settling for the status quo and constantly striving for innovation.
What do you love about science?
That it's constantly challenging and it stretches the imagination and the brain cells.
What advice do you have for women and girls pursuing a career in STEM?
Don't shy away from it, it's absolutely something that women bring a unique diversity to, and we need more of them.
What’s your favorite restaurant in San Diego?
Pamplemousse, it’s the best restaurant in San Diego. You didn’t ask me what my favorite dive restaurant is that’s Chief’s Burgers & Brew in Solana Beach.
And your favorite San Diego brew?
Favorite account to follow on social media?
@MarvelStudios – I'm a huge Marvel fan – all the Avengers. Also loving @MarsCuriosity. And, of course, @NASAJPL to catch all the latest on Ingenuity.
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