The Ingenuity mini-helicopter prepares for its first flight to Mars

The Ingenuity mini-helicopter prepares for its first flight to Mars

If all goes to plan, Perseverance's helicopter, Ingenuity, the first to fly to another planet, will attempt controlled flight to Mars by mid-April. Here is the program

(Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech) Everything is ready: Ingenuity, the helicopter drone of the Perseverance mission is preparing to make its first flight over the surface of the red planet. This was announced by NASA, according to which the first attempt of the small helicopter, weighing about 2 kilos, will not take place before April 8th, when both the team of scientists and the vehicle will be able to overcome a series of latest and very delicate step. Until that moment, therefore, Ingenuity will remain attacked and protected by the Perseverance rover, which in the meantime is moving towards the "aerodrome", an area specifically chosen because it is flat and without obstacles, where flight will be attempted.

Once ready, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days (equal to 31 Earth days) to be able to succeed in its enterprise. Flying in a controlled way to Mars, NASA reminds us, is not at all simple: just think that although the red planet has a gravity of about one third compared to Earth's, its atmosphere is only 1% dense than what we have on Earth. our surface. Furthermore, during the day, the surface of Mars receives only half the amount of solar energy that reaches our planet and night temperatures can drop as low as -90 degrees.

Ingenuity, the first aircraft developed to be able to hover on another planet, has therefore been equipped with many features: it is small in size, it is light and it must have enough energy available to power the various components and thus being able to survive the freezing Martian nights. A system, of solar panels and many other components, which has been tested over and over again in the laboratories of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Every step we've taken since this journey began six years ago has been an unexplored field in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram, engineer at JPL. "And while flying to the surface will be a great test, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting and feeding it, will be an even bigger challenge."

The detachment process of Ingenuity will take approximately 6 Martian days, from the first, in which the team will activate a device from Earth that will unlock Ingenuity from Perseverance, until the day (the fifth) in which the helicopter will be in the its final position, suspended about 13 centimeters from the Martian surface. At that point, just one bolt and a handful of tiny cables will still hold Ingenuity and Perseverance together. And only after using Perseverance for the last time as a source of energy to recharge, the connection between them will be interrupted and Ingenuity will settle on the ground. On the sixth and final Martian day, therefore, the team will have to confirm three things: that Ingenuity's four legs are firmly positioned on the ground, that Perseverance is about 5 meters away, and that both the helicopter and the rover continue to communicate. each other via the on-board radios. When the team determines that everything is ready for the first attempt, Perseverance will receive the command from the ground and will pass the flight instructions to Ingenuity.

If all goes according to plan, Ingenuity will take off at a speed of about one meter per second, then remaining suspended 3 meters from the surface for a maximum of 30 seconds, before landing again. “Ingenuity is an experimental test, we want to see if we can fly to Mars,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity. “There are no tools on board nor does it have goals for obtaining scientific information. We are confident that all the engineering data we want to have can be collected within this 30-day Martian window ”.

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