A century after the first powered voyage to Earth, NASA hopes to prove that it is possible to fly a machine on another planet. Transported on a Mars 2020 mission to its destination on Thursday, the small ingenuity helicopter will have to achieve a feat: an increase in air with a density equal to only 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Ingenuity actually looks like a big drone. The main challenge for engineers: to make it as light as possible, so that it can lift itself in very light air. In the end it weighed only 1.8 kg.
It is four feet long, with one body and two superimposed propellers. It measures 1.2 meters from one end of the blade to the other. The propellers rotate at 2,400 rpm (revolutions per minute) five times faster than a standard helicopter.
Ingenuity is equipped with solar panels to recharge its batteries, using more energy to warm up (which is -90 రాత్రి C at night on Mars). It can also take photos and videos.
The helicopter was placed under the belly of the main mission vehicle, the Perseverance Rover. Once on Mars, it will be dropped to the ground, and a rover will fall on it to get out of it.
At the beginning of the mission, in the window of a month, the five planes, which are gradually becoming more difficult, are planned.
It can grow up to 5 meters in height and move up to 300 meters, although it is much shorter than the first test.
Each flight lasts up to a minute and a half, NASA argues, “which is not a small feat compared to 12 seconds on the first powered aircraft on Earth.”
Due to a twenty-minute transmission delay between Earth and Mars, there is no joystick to control it. It flies in autonomy: commands are sent, but it thanks to a series of sensors that help it navigate. The results of the flights will be received after a long time.
NASA calls this experiment a demonstration mission: it has no scientific purpose other than to prove that it is possible to travel to Mars and to collect data on the ship’s behavior on another planet.
In the future, such devices will “lead to a whole new era of Mars exploration,” said project chief engineer Bob Balaram. By going where the rovers can’t go (over the canyons …).
We can also look for samples deposited by previous missions and then brought back to a base. For example, in the next phase of the March 2020 mission, Perseverance must begin collecting samples.