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Martian storms are quite common and can sometimes encompass most of the planet. Though the density of the Martian air is low, the speeds are pretty high (some have observed 26 m/s).

  • How would the winds of the Martian storms affect the Mars Helicopter, especially while resting on the ground?

Dust devils, on extremely rare occasion, are known to cross over the space probes (cue in mysterious cleaning up of Spirit and Opportunity rover panels in 2005). Though the previous encounters turned out to be pretty lucky and with positive outcome, how will it be this time with a Martian helicopter?

  • What if Ingenuity gets caught inside a dust devil? Has this been event been considered while developing this mission?

The Martian air is notorious to hold on to the dust for a significant period of time post a storm.

  • What is the effect of the dust laden air on the bearings and blades of the helicopter, especially during flight?
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    $\begingroup$ 26 m/s at ~1% density compared to Earth is equivalent to a "storm" of roughly 26 cm/s on Earth. That's a 0 on the Beaufort scale, also known as "still air". $\endgroup$ May 14 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ Could you feel the wind on Mars? might be of interest in relation to this question. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    May 14 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag except for the planet-enveloping dust storms blotting out the Sun and killing spacecraft that require power to keep their batteries warm overnight; still air doesn't do things like that. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 15 at 21:09
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How would the winds of the Martian storms affect the Mars Helicopter, especially while resting on the ground?

  • Martian dust storms can most definitely vary in severity, however, it is very unlikely that a dust storm grows into a global dust storm as those tend to happen on average every 5.5 earth years. But you are right that they can reach velocities of 26 m/s, about half the speed of hurricane force winds on earth, as you mentioned the density of the air, or should I say the lack thereof, since it is 1% that of earth it would need to have much higher wind speed. Interestingly enough, JPL didn't perform high windspeed tests on the vehicle but instead opted for a custom wind tunnel to mimic flight on mars. Regardless, the more important issue that could arise from dust storms is the dust sticking to the solar panels. This is because although small, martian dust particles are slightly electrostatic resulting in less sunlight reaching the panels, which in turn means less electricity is produced.

What if Ingenuity gets caught inside a dust devil? Has this been event been considered while developing this mission?

  • Before answering this question, it is important to understand how dust devils are formed. Dust devils form by rising and vortex warm air pockets. The air near the soil of mars can become heated during the day and since warm air is less dense, it rises through the cooler air above it. As a result, additional air moves inward along the surface of mars to replace the rising pocket which is rotating due to Coriolis forces. This forms the vortex of spinning air. When the incoming air rises, its rotational speed increases causing martian dust and soil to be picked up. As mentioned in the question above, the biggest concern in regard to these atmospheric anomalies in the sediment they displace. This is because even a dust devil of only a few feet across can move enough dust to cover the equipment and decrease the amount of sunlight hitting the panels. Interesting that you should ask this question as during the May 8th Flight of Ingenuity, at the 1-minute mark in the video link, you can see a dust devil forming. Therefore, it is definitely a considerable issue however since ingenuity wasn't designed to remain in operation throughout the martian winter, this likely wasn't a severe issue to them.

What is the effect of the dust laden air on the bearings and blades of the helicopter, especially during flight?

  • The bigger concern of martian dust due to its electrostatic is its attraction to the solar panels. According to the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Landing Press pdf, perseverance has sensors onboard to detect dust presence in the wind and will likely dictate if ingenuity will fly. That is to say, high amounts of dust in the air may have negative impacts on the helicopter's performance.

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