NASA’s Perseverance rover nailed its extraordinary landing on Mars on Thursday, February 18, surviving the nail-biting “seven minutes of terror” prior to touchdown.
About the size of a small car, the six-wheel rover is NASA’s most advanced to date. Once it’s undergone a self-administered health check to ensure all of its systems are in proper working order, Perseverance will set about exploring the Martian surface for signs of ancient life, among other tasks.
But it’s also carrying with it another vehicle that many space fans are keen to see in action.
Ingenuity is a diminutive helicopter-like machine that is set to become the first aircraft to fly on another planet.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the Mars mission, is planning for Perseverance to deploy Ingenuity to the surface of the planet between 60 and 90 Martian days from now. That means Ingenuity should be in place and ready to take its first flight some time between April 19 and May 19, 2021.
The video below shows in great detail the various stages of the all-important deployment process that will see Perseverance release Ingenuity from its underbelly in a few months from now. It also shows how the aircraft’s maiden flight could look.
The journey of 314 million miles all comes down to the last few inches. See how the Mars Helicopter Delivery System will get Ingenuity safely to the surface of the Red Planet, where it will try the first experimental powered flight on another world. https://t.co/TGGmQhSg4U pic.twitter.com/LAU5JMRDl1
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 23, 2020
Once Ingenuity is on the ground, Perseverance will drive away, leaving the aircraft to take its first-ever flight on Mars.
Ingenuity is expected to take a total of five separate flights, each one a little more challenging than the one before.
For example, the helicopter’s first flight will be nothing more than a gentle hover test just a few meters off the ground to make sure that the machine has arrived in full working order and can deal with the harsh conditions as expected. Later flights, on the other hand, could see it flying distances of up to 300 meters.
The main aim of Ingenuity’s mission is to test the technology to show that it’s possible to fly a rotorcraft in Mars’ super-thin atmosphere and extremely cold temperatures. The tests should pave the way for more advanced Mars helicopters capable of flying close to the Martian surface in search of useful research sites, and also to collect data for mapping routes for future Mars rovers.
The mostly autonomous vehicle weighs a mere 4 pounds (1.8 kg) and features four carbon-fiber rotors, each one just over a meter long. At its core is a small, box-like fuselage that holds a downward-facing camera. Solar cells and batteries will take care of the aircraft’s power needs, while an internal heater will enable it to deal with Mars’ bitterly cold nights.
“The Wright Brothers showed that powered flight in Earth’s atmosphere was possible, using an experimental aircraft,” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “With Ingenuity, we’re trying to do the same for Mars.”
Check out NASA’s highlights video showing the exciting events of Thursday afternoon as Perseverance touched down on the surface of the red planet.