NASA has announced its plans regarding the small Ingenuity Mars Helicopter that arrived on the Red Planet with the Perseverance rover. According to the space agency, it plans to power on and deploy the helicopter for the first time sometime after April 8, 2021, marking the first attempt to operate an aircraft on another planet.
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter weighs only 4lbs; it is currently attached to the Perseverance rover’s belly where it made the trip to Mars. The rover shed the debris shield that protected Ingenuity over the weekend and now it is rolling to the designated ‘airfield’ where Ingenuity will conduct its first flight.
NASA has previously stressed that Ingenuity is an experiment and that it’s possible the helicopter won’t succeed in controlled flight. Operating the rotorcraft on Mars will be far more difficult than operating it on Earth, the space agency notes, due in part to the differences in atmosphere, temperature, and available sunlight.
NASA’s team designed Ingenuity to be small, lightweight, and capable of keeping its sensitive components warm in frigid temperatures. The aircraft was tested multiple times using simulated conditions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory — despite that, NASA says, the team is nervous about the upcoming attempt.
NASA Mars Helicopter integration lead Farah Alibay explained:
As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before. Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn’t going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea what is going on.