One of the more exciting experiments that NASA has planned for the surface of Mars is the first flight of a helicopter on the Red Planet. The Perseverance rover will soon release a small helicopter onto the surface of Mars before driving a safe distance away to observe the historic test flight. NASA officials believe the Ingenuity helicopter could attempt its first flight around April 8.
Ingenuity has been tucked away underneath the deck of the Perseverance rover for nearly a year. The rotorcraft weighs about four pounds and was tucked safely away into its storage space on the belly of the rover on April 6, 2020. Perseverance launched in July 2020. Mission controllers at JPL are preparing to send Perseverance commands, instructing it to release the Ingenuity helicopter.
The first step in deployment was for the rover to release its debris cover, which happened on March 21, revealing the helicopter inside. The debris cover was a carbon fiber shield that protected Ingenuity from rocks and debris during landing. If Ingenuity can fly on Mars, it could change how the Red Planet is explored in the future.
NASA spent $80 million developing and building the helicopter, which is about 1.6 feet tall and has counter-rotating rotors spanning about four feet tip to tip. Counterrotating rotors means there is no tail rotor like a traditional helicopter. NASA also has an additional $5 million set aside to operate the helicopter during a 31-day test campaign.
NASA notes that while the test flight is scheduled for around April 8, the date could change as the helicopter goes through deployment and testing milestones. During its first flight, the helicopter should reach an altitude of about 10 feet. It will then hover for about 30 seconds and make a turn while hovering before descending back to the surface of Mars.