• February 4, 2023

With Mini Helicopter On Mars, NASA Hopes To Reinvent Flight ‘On Another World’ : NPR

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, with all four legs in action, before falling from the belly of the Perseverance rover on March 30, 2021. NASA hides the caption

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter was deployed with all four legs before falling off the belly of the Perseverance rover on March 30, 2021.

NASA

NASA’s miniature helicopter is safely stationed on Mars and prepares the stage for a possible maiden flight on the Red Planet.

The four-pound helicopter named Ingenuity made the long journey from Earth under the Perseverance rover that was stowed put on in February. On Saturday, NASA confirmed that Ingenuity had safely separated from the rover’s belly and survived the 4-inch fall to the surface of Mars.

The successful deployment brings NASA one step closer to its first attempt to test the possibility of motorized, controlled flight on another planet. This could one day allow scientists to observe and explore parts of the Martian surface that rovers cannot reach.

NASA has compared Ingenuity’s experimental mission to the Wright brothers’ historic first flight in 1903, which ushered in the air age on Earth.

Ingenuity could launch as early as April 11th and launch a series of up to five test flights over the Jezero crater, where Perseverance landed, over a period of one month.

Currently, the project is purely experimental and focuses on demonstrating a new technology rather than supporting the Perseverance mission, which is currently searching for signs of ancient life on Mars and collecting samples from the planet’s surface.

The helicopter’s first flight will be short: the ingenuity will rise about 10 feet above the ground, hover in the air for less than a minute, and then land. However, NASA says the short trip would mark an important milestone.

“Under alien conditions with almost no atmosphere, it reinvents flight on another world,” NASA said in theirs pendant for the mission. “If this 30-day experiment is successful, it could pave the way for future air explorers.”

When NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter makes its first test flight on the Red Planet, the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will be nearby, as this artist’s concept shows. NASA / JPL-Caltech hide caption

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When NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter makes its first test flight on the Red Planet, the agency’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will be nearby, as this artist’s concept shows.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Surviving the 293 million mile journey to Mars and the safe departure of Perseverance were the first of a series of milestones the helicopter must traverse before its first flight. Next, Ingenuity has to stay warm and functional during the extremely cold nights on Mars, when temperatures can reach minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the past, the helicopter relied on the rover’s power grid, now Ingenuity has to rely on internal heating and charge its batteries with a solar panel.

Further technical hurdles for Ingenuity lie ahead of us, such as the start in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Although the Red Planet has about a third of the Earth’s gravity, its atmosphere is only 1% as dense on the surface. This means that without a lot of air to push, it’s harder to create lift.

After the helicopter has received commands from Earth that have been relayed via the Perseverance rover, it must also conduct each test flight without real-time input from Mission Control.

However, if Ingenuity’s experiments prove successful, the technology could aid future robotic and even human missions to Mars by providing new aerial photography, capturing high-resolution images, or transporting small payloads from one location to another.

Jack

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