Updated: April 13, 2021 6:59:00 am
NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter, which was sent to Mars strapped to the Perseverance rover, will take its first experimental flight on the Red Planet on or after April 14, the space agency has announced. NASA had unlocked the rotor blades of its Ingenuity helicopter, thereby allowing them to spin freely, on April 7. If things go as planned, Ingenuity, a 1.8-kilogram rotorcraft, will become the first helicopter to fly on another planet.
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The helicopter was carried along with the Perseverance rover last year on July 30 from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and landed at the Jezero Crater on Mars on February 18 this year.
What is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter?
The helicopter’s mission is experimental in nature and completely independent of the rover’s science mission – which is searching for signs of ancient life and collecting samples of rock and sediment in tubes for potential return to Earth by later missions.
Ingenuity is able to fly using counter-rotating blades that spin at about 2,400 rpm. It has a wireless communication system, and is equipped with computers, navigation sensors, and two cameras. It is solar-powered, able to charge on its own.
The helicopter project’s chief engineer is J (Bob) Balaram, a graduate of IIT Madras who later went on to work at NASA.
According to NASA, the helicopter was placed on the Martian surface to test — for the first time ever — powered flight in the planet’s thin air. Its performance during these experimental test flights will help inform decisions about small helicopters for future Mars missions — where they can perform a support role as robotic scouts, surveying terrain from above, or as full standalone science craft carrying instrument payloads.
Taking to the air would give scientists a new perspective on a region’s geology and even allow them to peer into areas that are too steep or slippery to send a rover, a NASA fact sheet said. In the distant future, they might even help astronauts explore Mars.
NASA will try and demonstrate rotorcraft flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars with this helicopter, which is why the mission is so crucial.
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