NASA has revealed new details about the flight of Ingenuity, its Mars helicopter.
The plane will launch the very first controlled flight to another planet and will mark a major technological test for the space agency.
Bob Balaram, chief engineer of helicopters on Mars at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), says the first attempt at a powered and controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet will take place “not before” on April 8.
But, he adds, “things are fluid, and that could be changed by a few days in either direction”.
Away goes the debris shield, and here’s our first look at the helicopter. It’s stowed sideways, folded up and locked in place, so there’s some reverse origami to do before I can set it down. First though, I’ll be off to the designated “helipad,” a couple days’ drive from here. pic.twitter.com/E9zZGQk5jQ— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 21, 2021
Deploying the first helicopter to Mars is no easy task. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ingenuity team of engineers had to account for a Martian atmosphere 100 times thinner than Earth’s, meaning the craft must work much harder than Earth-bound helicopters to take off from the ground.
During Martian daytime, the planet’s surface receives only about half the amount of solar energy that reaches earth during its daytime,” JPL says. Night temperatures on Mars can sink to -90 degrees Celsius (-130 degrees Fahrenheit), “which can freeze and crack unprotected electrical components”.