NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully deployed onto the surface of Mars Saturday, its travel buddy the Perseverance rover capturing it posing triumphantly on the first Martian flight field.
The Mars helicopter, a four-pound drone with a nearly four-foot blade span, will attempt to make humanity’s first-ever flight on an alien planet in April, no earlier than the 11th. If the first flight is successful, it could attempt up to four more over a 30-sol (Mars day) period.
The deployment of Ingenuity from Perseverance took roughly 10 sols. It’s a long, delicate process designed to cause as little disturbance as possible. Now that it’s on the ground, Persy is driving away to a safe distance.
As NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab noted in the above tweet, Ingenuity will have to survive the night. A warm day on Mars is a freezing one on Earth, and Ingenuity could be sitting in temperatures that get as low as -130 degrees Fahrenheit, said Ingenuity mechanical lead Josh Ravich in an interview with Mashable about the mission. The helicopter is designed to keep itself warm using a solar-powered battery.
Before Ingenuity takes off, it still has a host of tests to complete to make sure everything is working properly, including its rotors.
Although Ingenuity’s only objective as a tech demonstration is to simply prove that scientists can get something to fly on Mars, a planet with an atmosphere that’s 1 percent as dense as Earth’s, it is also equipped with a camera that can send data to the rover, which can then be relayed back to Earth.
If everything goes well, Ingenuity could pave the way for future drones in space, which have certain advantages over slower, land-locked rovers.
“The ability to go places you can’t otherwise, like to go up a mountain, or go down a ravine,” Ravich said. “You can’t drive a rover down into a ditch but you can fly a helicopter down into the ravine.”
Fleets of drones in the future could map regions or even take samples from a wide range of areas relatively quickly. In a 90-second flight, a drone could cover nearly a kilometer, Ravich said.