NASA’s ramping up for the landing of its Perseverance Rover on the surface of the red planet. One of the experiments aboard the rover is the Ingenuity helicopter. The helicopter will be deployed shortly after the spacecraft lands on the surface of Mars and will allow scientists to try and fly an aircraft on another planet for the first time. The Ingenuity helicopter is tucked underneath the rover, and a few weeks after landing, it will attempt its first flight.
Ingenuity chief engineer Bob Balaram says that the first flight attempt for Ingenuity will be a “Wright’s Brothers moment” for the team. He says the team hopes if they are successful in flying Ingenuity on the Red Planet, it will be a similar kind of moment as that first flight at Kitty Hawk.
Designing Ingenuity was a significant scientific challenge. Temperatures on Mars drop to -130 degrees Fahrenheit at Jezero Crater. At that temperature, only a third of the helicopter’s power can be used for flying. The rest of the power is diverted to keep the helicopter online during the frigid Martian night by warming the electronics.
The main challenge to flight for Ingenuity is that the atmosphere of Mars is 99 percent thinner than Earth’s. The helicopter features a pair of four-foot-long carbon-fiber blades spinning at roughly 2400 rpm on counter-rotating motors to generate enough lift. NASA says that’s about eight times faster than helicopter blades spin on earth.
Ingenuity is also very lightweight, weighing only four pounds with the fuselage only a little larger than a softball. After landing, Perseverance will look for a place to deploy Ingenuity. A suitable spot is a flat piece of ground. After Ingenuity is deployed, Perseverance will drive about 330 feet away to minimize the risk of collision. Ingenuity will then take off while Perseverance monitors it with its cameras.