Ingenuity helicopter checks in with NASA from the surface of Mars

This week has been a big one for NASA and Mars, with the Perseverance rover landing on the Red Planet's surface. One of the more exciting experiments that Perseverance has taken to the surface of Mars is the Ingenuity helicopter. The first step in trying to fly Ingenuity on the surface of Mars is to deploy the helicopter from the rover and have it dial home.

Ingenuity dialed home this week, letting mission controllers on Earth know that it survived the terrifying seven-minute-long landing tucked underneath Perseverance. Perseverance touched down on the surface of Mars on February 18, and both it and Ingenuity are awake and communicating with controllers on Earth. Controllers at JPL received a downlink on Friday at 6:30 PM EST through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, indicating that Ingenuity and its base station are both operating normally.

Tim Canham, Ingenuity Mars helicopter operations lead at JPL, said both the helicopter and its base station appear to be working great. He noted on Friday that the team would move forward with charging helicopter batteries on Saturday. On Saturday, February 20, the power-up procedure did happen to charge the six lithium-ion batteries to roughly 30 percent of their full capacity.

Data will be beamed back after reaching that charge level to help scientists determine how to proceed with future battery-charging sessions. The plan is to charge the helicopter batteries to about 35 percent over the next few days and conduct weekly charging sessions to keep the helicopter warm.

Currently, Perseverance is powering Ingenuity, but it will use its solar panels once deployed to the surface of Mars. Mission control says that after Perseverance deploys Ingenuity, the helicopter will have a 30-Martian-day test flight window that spans 31 days here on Earth. The helicopter will fly in a few months and will be the first flight of an aircraft on another world.