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April 8, 2021 - NASA engineers plan to send a miniature helicopter whirring just above the surface of Mars in an experiment that, if successful, would mark the first ever powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another planet.
The little helicopter, called Ingenuity, was carried to the Red Planet by the Perseverance rover which made its dramatic landing in Jezero Crater in February.
To celebrate Ingenuity’s pioneering mission, the mission team affixed a tiny swatch of fabric from the Wright Brothers’ plane, Flyer 1, which opened the era of powered flight on Earth in 1903, underneath its solar panel.
The 1.8kg, twin-rotor aircraft will attempt a series of short hops in Mars' rarefied air. The tiny chopper, no bigger than a chihuahua dog, has to be extremely light to achieve lift in the thin atmosphere.
The flight will take place in a flat and relatively hazard-free 10 sq-metre (33sq ft) area in Jezero that engineers have nicknamed the “airfield”.
Deploying the little chopper from Perseverance’s belly onto the red dirt is a complex process that will unfold over six days. If all goes to plan, Ingenuity will then gear up for its giant leap for robotkind. During its pioneering first flight, the chopper will rise to an altitude of 3m (10ft), hover for a maximum of 30 seconds and return to land on its four springy legs.
Ingenuity features four specially made carbon-fibre blades, arranged into two 1m-long rotors that spin in opposite directions at around 2,400 revolutions per minute – many times faster than blades turn on a regular passenger helicopter.
Perseverance will endeavour to record everything on camera.
If everything goes well, the four subsequent flights will get more complex.
- How NASA's Mars Helicopter Will Reach the Red Planet's Surface (NASA)
- NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity could fly for 1st time on April 8 (Space.com)
- Meet the First Helo on Mars: A Deep Dive Into What Makes Ingenuity So…Ingenious (Pop Mech)
- NASA's Ingenuity helicopter is getting ready to fly on Mars (ABC)