NASA is now targeting no earlier than April 19 for the maiden flight of its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. The flight is slated to occur at 07:30 UTC.
Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars strapped to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover which touched down on the surface of the Red Planet in February. The diminutive robotic explorer was then lowered to the rocky surface in preparation for its maiden flight.
The first flight of Ingenuity will be a short hop to an altitude of three meters. It will hover for approximately 20 seconds at its maximum altitude before touching down.
With a 12 to 14-minute transmission delay between Earth and Mars, the flight will have been complete for more than ten minutes before ground controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will have confirmation of its success.
The entire process will be broadcast live on NASA TV with the livestream beginning at 07:15 UTC.
Originally slated for April 11, the maiden flight of Ingenuity was delayed after an issue with the helicopter’s flight controller was discovered during a high-speed rotor test.
After identifying the problem, the Ingenuity team at JPL designed a software patch that was then successfully uploaded and installed. Ground controllers then began to work through a preflight checklist that began with an initial rotor spin test and will be concluded with a high-speed rotor spin test.
Following an initial test flight, Ingenuity will begin a 30-day test campaign attempting progressively more ambitious flights. The most ambitious is expected to be up to 90 seconds covering a distance of almost 300 meters.
Once the 30-day test campaign is complete, Perseverance, which acts as a transmission relay between Ingenuity and Earth, will leave the diminutive robotic explorer where it is cutting it off from ground controllers and ending its historic mission.