NASA’s Perseverance prepares to launch helicopter from Martian surface

NASA shows off capabilities of Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

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The Perseverance Rover continues to make great strides on the Red Planet since its arrival there in February. The latest landmark mission will see NASA launch a helicopter, called Ingenuity, from the surface of Mars – making it the first aircraft to ever launch from the Martian planet.

Since Perseverance touched down on Mars on February 18, it has slowly been making its way across the terrain to look for a suitable launching spot.

The rover has now located a flat “airfield” which consists of a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-metre) smooth terrain.

NASA has said it will launch Ingenuity on April 8, making it “the first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet”.

However, the space agency and its rover will have to overcome several challenges to make the launch, as flying on Mars is a whole different ball game than on Earth.

Gravity on Mars is just one third the strength of gravity on Earth and has an atmosphere just one percent as dense, so Ingenuity needs to be extremely light – it weighs just four kilograms.

The activation process of the helicopter will take a little longer than six days in total.

The first day will see NASA launch the “bolt-breaking” device, which releases the guitar-case-shaped object from the belly of Perseverance.

Day two will see NASA “fire a cable-cutting pyrotechnic device” which allows a mechanised arm which holds Ingenuity to begin rotating the helicopter out of its position. Two of the four legs of Ingenuity will also be deployed.

The following day, an electric motor will rotate Ingenuity until it is firmly planted on the ground in a position suitable for launch.

On day four, Ingenuity’s final two legs will snap into position while the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager will take images of its surroundings.

Day five will see Ingenuity use Perseverance as a power source as it readies for launch before the rover scuttles away from the helicopter.

On day six, Ingenuity will launch 10 feet (three metres) into the air where it will hover.

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NASA has said there is no purpose to the flight other than to simply see if it is possible to fly an object from Mars.

MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, said: “Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test – we want to see if we can fly at Mars.

“There are no science instruments onboard and no goals to obtain scientific information.

“We are confident that all the engineering data we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and aloft can be done within this 30-sol window.”

Ingenuity will hover in the air for just 30 seconds before touching down, providing NASA with an insight into how feasible it is to launch from the surface – data which is invaluable for humanity’s inevitable arrival.

NASA said: “Perseverance will downlink Ingenuity’s first set of engineering data and, possibly, images and video from the rover’s Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z.

“From the data downlinked that first evening after the flight, the Mars Helicopter team expect to be able to determine if their first attempt to fly at Mars was a success.”

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