NASA announced March 23 that the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter is slated to occur no earlier than April 8.
The shoebox-sized Ingenuity helicopter hitched a ride to the red planet attached to the belly plate of NASA’s Perseverance rover, which touched down on February 18. When it completes its maiden flight next month, Ingenuity will be the first robotic explorer to take to the skies on another planet.
Prior to its maiden flight, mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will need to complete a number of key milestones, the first of which is to navigate to the “airfield”, a 10-by-10 patch of Martian real estate chosen for its flatness and lack of obstacles.
Once Perseverance arrives at the airfield, Ingenuity will be rotated from a horizontal position to an upright position and then dropped from a height of 13 centimeters to the surface of Mars. Perseverance will then drive away leaving the skies clear for Ingenuity to take flight.
The deployment process is expected to be periodically completed over the course of five Martian days.
Following a series of system checks, mission controllers will send a signal with final flight instructions to Perseverance which will then be relayed to Ingenuity. The robotic explorer will then throttle up its rotors to 2,537 rpm and complete a series of self-checks before lifting off.
Once in the air, Ingenuity will climb to an altitude of 3 meters at 1 meter per second, hover for approximately 30 seconds and return to the Martian surface completing its historic maiden flight.