UPDATED 8:08 AM PT – Sunday, April 4, 2021
NASA is preparing its space helicopter “Ingenuity” for the agency’s first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet.
Scientists on Friday said the Mars helicopter is likely to takeoff on or about April 11, adding it needs to charge up to 100 percent first. Ingenuity made its way over to the Red Planet as a part of the Perseverance program back in February.
Swing low, sweet helicopter…@NASAPersevere is slowly and carefully deploying the #MarsHelicopter, Ingenuity. The tech demo is currently unfolding from its stowed position and readying to safely touch down on the Martian surface. See upcoming milestones: https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/3AyaiHOH2k
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 30, 2021
Once detached, the device must survive on its own in surface temperatures down to negative 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
The helicopter’s blades move five times faster than those on earth, but scientists said it’s still unclear how it will behave amid flight in the Martian atmosphere.
“Now, the flight itself will consist of a take-off and then a climb to an altitude of three metres,” Chief Pilot of Ingenuity Harvard Grip said. “Then we will hover in place for about thirty seconds and turn with the helicopter while we are hovering, and then come down and land again.”
Scientists said Ingenuity will broaden our understanding of the Red Planet and it will provide more data for future landings on Mars.
“Ingenuity will open new possibilities and will spark questions for the future about what we could accomplish with an aerial explorer,” Lori Glaze, director of the NASA Planetary Science Division said.
No longer receiving free power from the rover, Ingenuity will have to survive the first night on its own, leaving scientists to patiently see if the helicopter made it through.