from the flying-drones-on-Mars dept.
NASA's mission to send another rover to Mars is set to culminate in a successful landing on February 18, 2021, but that's not all the agency is sending to the Red Planet.
The Perseverance rover – once it lands next month – will begin scouring a section of Mars that astronomers believe could have hosted and supported microbial life in the past.
But a second passenger aboard the lander vehicle will be meant to do something else entirely.
The Mars Helicopter – also known as Ingenuity – will deploy alongside the rover, and will be NASA's attempt at trying to achieve successful controlled flight on Mars for the very first time.
Ingenuity weighs only four pounds, and is described as a "small, but mighty passenger". Though it has a fuselage (main body) no bigger than a tissue box, it's supposedly strong enough to brave the harsh weather conditions on the planet during flight.
Started as a wishful project about six years ago, the engineers behind Ingenuity understood that while it was theoretically possible to fly in Mars' super-thin atmosphere, there was no real conviction that they'd be able to build a vehicle that could fly, communicate, and survive on its own on Mars.
But after rounds of research and testing, the team have managed to create a flying vehicle that has so far survived all tests emulating Mars' environment, and the next step is to make it fly on the Red Planet for real.
Salon has an article on Ingenuity.
In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew a plane for 12 seconds, 120 feet in the air, on what is now known as the first powered-controlled flight on Earth. Now, 118 years later, the first powered-controlled attempt at a flight on another planet is about to take place.
According to NASA, Ingenuity — the four-pound rotorcraft attached to Perseverance — is on its way to its "airfield" on Mars.
The space agency announced that its target for its first takeoff attempt will happen no earlier than April 8, 2021.
Ingenuity was designed as an experiment to see if it is possible to fly on Mars as we do here on Earth. And the process leading up to the takeoff is a very meticulous one. Consider how long it took humans to stick a powered-controlled flight on Earth; given Mars' thin atmosphere and a twenty-minute delay in communication, it is arguably more challenging on Mars.
"As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before," Farah Alibay, Mars helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover, said in a press statement. "Once we start the deployment there is no turning back."
Every move for the next couple of weeks could make or break Ingenuity's success — starting with precisely positioning the rotorcraft in the middle of its 33-by-33-foot square airfield, which is actually a flat field on the Martian surface with no obstructions. From there, the entire deployment process from Perseverance will take about six Martian days, which are called sols. (The Martian sol is thirty-nine minutes longer than an Earth day.)
Good luck, little chopper!