Ingenuity, The First Space Helicopter is Set to Fly on Mars

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Source: NASA JPL

“KSC-20200409-PH-JPL01_0001” by NASAKennedy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By: Aurora Ayala, Reporter

Perseverance has successfully touched down on Mars! After about 7 months and the seven minutes of terror, the rover has landed on the Martian surface. But what you may not know is that Perseverance wasn’t alone. Stored in its belly is a small helicopter drone named Ingenuity. Ingenuity isn’t the first aircraft in space, that title was taken by a balloon mission on Venus a few years ago. However, it is the first powered aircraft outside of Earth.

Ingenuity weighs around four pounds, and is set to fly around July 30, 2021. Ingenuity has two cameras; one on its belly and one on its front. Because this is the first helicopter to launch on Mars, Ingenuity’s flights will be a technology demonstration, which means that its mission is to successfully show that it works. If these first flights go well, Ingenuity will start a new era of drone/rover exploration.

Mars’ atmosphere is  99% less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, and the gravity is less, both of which make flying on the planet difficult. Moreover, the nights on Mars can reach -90 degrees Celsius, which pushes the design limits of some of Ingenuity’s parts. This is why Ingenuity has carbon fiber blades that rotate at about 2,400 rpm, and why it has a heater to help combat the cold.

The first of Ingenuity’s flights will be a simple one. Once it is deployed, it will fly up a few meters, hover, and then come back down. The flights become increasingly harder over time, and are all autonomous. Ingenuity can’t be controlled from earth because the signals take around 5-7 minutes to travel between planets, and by the time a command reaches Mars, Ingenuity might have already crashed.

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