NASA is targeting no earlier than April 11 for the maiden flight of its Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. The flight will be the first controlled powered flight on another planet.
The Ingenuity helicopter hitched a ride on the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover which touched down on the surface of the Red Planet on February 18. The helicopter is a technology demonstration mission that NASA hopes will provide valuable insight that can be used to plan future missions to explore the skies of Mars.
The maiden flight of Ingenuity will see the diminutive explorer climb to an altitude of three meters at a rate of 1m/s. It will then hover for approximately 20 seconds before descending and touching back down on the Martian surface.
With an 11-minute-plus transmission delay between Earth and Mars, the flight will be completed autonomously and mission controllers will not know the outcome of the short hop until several minutes after it has already been completed.
Before Ingenuity’s first flight, several more milestones still need to be completed.
Currently, mission controllers are monitoring the daily power consumption of the helicopter over several days to verify that its energy and power module is operating nominally. Once confirmed, Ingenuity’s rotor blades will then be unlocked and spun up for the first time.
Finally, just before Ingenuity takes to the skies, the rotor blades will be spun up to full speed. If everything appears to be operating nominally, mission controllers will give the helicopter the go-ahead to complete its maiden flight.
Following its first flight, Ingenuity will undergo a 30-Martian-day test campaign. The test flights will include progressively longer flights ranging from a few seconds to a maximum of up to 90 seconds at a distance of almost 300 meters.
During the Ingenuity test campaign, the Perseverance rover will remain with the helicopter to document its flights, collect environmental data and act as a communications relay between Ingenuity and mission controllers on Earth.
Once testing is complete, Perseverance will begin its mission to explore the surface of Mars leaving the diminutive robotic explorer behind.