NASA's tiny Ingenuity Mars helicopter hits first space milestone

NASA says that the tiny helicopter attached to the Perseverance Mars rover was fired up and recharged in space for the first time. The event took place following its first week in space, according to the space agency, which says that all six batteries on the helicopter were analyzed and charged to a level of 35-percent. This was necessary to keep the batteries in optimal health during the multi-month trip, NASA says.

The Ingenuity helicopter on the belly of the Perseverance rover is essentially an experiment — NASA isn't sure whether it will successfully operate on the Red Planet, but if it does, it will be the first aerial vehicle to fly on a planet beyond Earth. The machines won't arrive on Mars until February 2021, but Ingenuity has already succeeded in its first test.

The battery charge took place on August 7, NASA explained in a recent post, a process that took eight hours. The helicopter's operations lead Tin Canham explained, "This was a big milestone, as it was our first opportunity to turn on Ingenuity and give its electronics a 'test drive' since we launched on July 30."

At this point in time, Ingenuity was charged from the rover itself, not from its solar panels, which will be used to charge the helicopter once it reaches Mars. NASA has given Ingenuity a 31-day flight test window, during which time the rover will hopefully show that controlled and powered aircraft can be operated on Mars.

Adding flight to its list of capabilities will enable NASA to study Mars in an entirely new way, opening the door for additional missions and discoveries. All of this assumes, of course, that the helicopter will succeed in operating on the alien planet.