NASA’s Ingenuity mini helicopter was launched to the surface of Mars in preparation for its maiden flight, the US space agency said. The microlight aircraft had been attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which landed on the Red Planet on February 18.
“MarsHelicopter landing confirmed!” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted on Saturday. “His 471 million kilometer (293 million mile) journey aboard @NASAPersevere ended with the final 10-centimeter (4-inch) drop from the rover’s belly to the surface of Mars today. The next milestone? Survive the night”. A photograph accompanying the tweet showed that Perseverance had drifted away from the helicopter and its “airfield” after falling to the surface. Biden congratulates the Perseverance rover team: “It’s amazing” The president appreciated the emotional importance of his achievement for a country about which “questions were beginning to arise.” The Ingenuity had been drawing on the Perseverance’s power system, but now it will have to use its own battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during the freezing Martian night. “This heater keeps the interior at about 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees F) during the freezing cold of the Martian night, where temperatures can drop to -90 degrees Celsius (-130 F),” Bob Balaram, Head of the Helicopter Project Mars’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer wrote in an update on Friday. “That comfortably protects key components like the battery and some of the sensitive electronics from damage in very cold temperatures.” Over the next few days, the Ingenuity team will check that the helicopter’s solar panels are working properly and recharge its battery before testing its motors and sensors before its maiden flight, Balaram said. The Ingenuity is expected to make its first flight attempt no earlier than April 11, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted. Ingenuity will try to fly in an atmosphere that is one percent the density of Earth, making elevation difficult, but will be assisted by gravity, which is one-third that of our planet. The first flight will involve climbing at a speed of about three feet (one meter) per second to a height of 10 feet (three meters), floating there for 30 seconds, and then descending back to the surface. The Ingenuity will take high resolution photos while flying. The development of the four-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter cost NASA about $ 85 million and is seen as a proof of concept that could revolutionize space exploration. The aircraft of the future could cover terrain much faster than rovers and explore rougher terrain.