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Nasa’s Ingenuity helicopter ready to fly on Mars. Schedule and what to expect

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Nasa’s Ingenuity helicopter is ready for its first flight on Mars this weekend after completing almost all the important milestones before the historic liftoff. After dropping off from the belly of the Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its blades and conducted a slow spin test of its blades on Thursday.

Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover, released a GIF image of the slow spin test, indicating that Ingenuity is well on its way to attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. But unlike the landing of Perseverance on Mars, we won’t know right away if the flight was successful.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter does a slow spin test of its blades, on April 8, 2021.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter does a slow spin test of its blades, on April 8, 2021.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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The rotorcraft weighing 1.8 kilograms is expected to take off from its “airfield” at around 10:54pm ET on April 11 (8:24am IST on April 12) and hover 10 feet above the surface for up to 30 seconds.

Ingenuity’s guidance, navigation, and control systems will do the piloting for autonomous flight attempt, mostly because radio signals will take 15 minutes and 27 seconds to bridge the 278-million-kilometre gap between Mars and Earth.

The first data from the first flight attempt is expected to arrive at Nasa’s JPL in Southern California at around 4:15am ET on April 12 (1:45pm IST on April 12).

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

The Martian atmosphere is 99 per cent less dense than Earth’s, which makes it difficult to achieve enough lift. Successful flights of Ingenuity could provide an ambitious aerial dimension to future Mars exploration.

“We do tech demos like this to push the envelope of our experience and provide something on which the next missions and the next generation can build,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at Nasa headquarters, said in a statement.

“Just as Ingenuity was inspired by the Wright brothers, future explorers will take off using both the data and inspiration from this mission,” he added.

Live coverage confirming Ingenuity’s first flight is targeted to begin around 3:30am ET, April 12, on Nasa’s website, app, and television. It will also be live-streamed on multiple social media platforms of the US space agency, including the JPL YouTube and Facebook channels.

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This Nasa photo shows the Perseverance Mars rover in a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen here about 13 feet (3.9 meters) from the rover, on April 6, 2021, the 46th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.(AFP)
This Nasa photo shows the Perseverance Mars rover in a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen here about 13 feet (3.9 meters) from the rover, on April 6, 2021, the 46th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.(AFP)

The selfie with Ingenuity was stitched together from 62 individual images taken by the Perseverance rover, said Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory(JPL).