Will the first helicopter on another planet succeed or will this mission fail? NASA has given no guarantees for success but the chances are high.
Photographs sent to Earth on March 28 by NASA’s Perseverance rover show that the critical procedure for deploying the Ingenuity helicopter is already underway! In the photo above, you can see that the helicopter is no longer in a horizontal position, but at an angle. Two of the four legs have already been released.
This shows that two of the six planned days dedicated to the deployment of “Ingenuity” have already passed. Today we expect the helicopter to be brought completely in a vertical position, and tomorrow – the last two legs to unfold.
The fifth day will be the last day on which the “Ingenuity” will be powered directly by the rover, so the team will use the day to fully charge its batteries.
— Doug Ellison (@doug_ellison) March 28, 2021
On the sixth day, the team must confirm that the helicopter has landed on the surface of Mars. Perseverance will then move 5 meters away and check the radio connection between the two machines. At this point, the 30-day service life of “Ingenuity” begins.
NASA informs us that this is a completely experimental helicopter. There are no scientific instruments on board, respectively “Ingenuity” will not be able to make scientific discoveries. It will simply demonstrate that Mars can be flown – something that has not been done before.
The first attempt at a controllable flight on Mars will be made no earlier than April 8. The news was announced during a special press conference last week.
Making a controllable flight on the Red Planet is much more difficult than conducting one on Earth. Mars’ gravity is significant, though only a third of Earth’s, and the density of the atmosphere is only 1% of ours.
In addition, the Red Planet is farther from the Sun, and in one day an apparatus on its surface would receive only half of the solar energy that reaches the Earth in the same day. Add to this the fact that at night temperatures drop to -90 o C.
The Ingenuity helicopter was developed for $ 80 million (compared to the $ 2.7 billion development price of Perseverance). However, unlike the main rover, the helicopter is only a small experimental machine that has yet to test whether it is possible to fly in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
The developers of “Ingenuity” had to deal with a number of limitations. One of them is dictated by the capabilities of Perseverance itself, which has a limited capacity to deliver a secondary payload to Mars.
So the helicopter has to be small. In order to be able to take off at all, it must be light. In order to survive sub-zero temperatures, it must have enough electricity to maintain the operation of its heaters and protect the electronic components.
So, according to the mission team, the very deployment of the helicopter and its survival on the first Martian night would be a significant engineering achievement.
The first flight will be quite modest – the helicopter must rise three meters above the surface of Mars, stay there for 30 seconds, and finally land. Confirmation of whether the procedure was successful or not will be carried out on the basis of photos taken by the navigation and scientific cameras of Perseverance.
We have a separate article dedicated to the mission goals of Ingenuity. You can read about it here.
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• Potter, S. (2021, March 23). NASA ingenuity MARS HELICOPTER prepares for first flight.
• Strickland, A. (2021, March 29). Ingenuity Mars helicopter to take flight and 5 other top space and science stories this week.
• Wall, M. (2021, March 23). NASA’s Mars helicopter ingenuity could fly for 1st time on April 8.
• Weule, G. (2021, March 29). NASA’s helicopter snapped under Mars rover as it gets ready to Fly. So what happens next?