The first helicopter on Mars

The first helicopter on Mars

NASA is planning to fly the Mars helicopter Ingenuity on the red planet this Sunday 11 April 2021. If the plan takes off, Ingenuity will be the first aircraft to ever function on another planet. Like any other first endeavours, several challenges loom in Ingenuity’s flight path. 

Dr Daphne Stam (AE Faculty) explained in NOS (in Dutch) that the helicopter’s energy capacity is the main challenge. With Mars’ thin atmosphere, the blades must rotate at lightning speed. At the same time, the aircraft will have to juggle various tasks such as processing camera images, measuring altitudes, and communicating with the rover Perseverance. 

These activities consume a lot of energy, so Ingenuity’s flying hours are highly limited. The helicopter will do test flights only five times this month, with each run lasting no longer than 90 seconds and going up no higher than 5 metres. On the ground, Perseverance will catch the data from Ingenuity and relay it to Earth.

Despite its limitations, the fact that the helicopter survived the first night after being decoupled from the rover is a good sign. The temperature can plunge to as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius, hazardous to electronics and batteries. But so far, they are in good order. Their performance hints at a major milestone for longer and higher Mars flights in the future. (RS)



The star of this Sunday. (Photo: NASA)

Rayan Suryadikara / Science Desk Intern

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