SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The first ever powered controlled flight of an aircraft on ANOTHER PLANET will be possible next week! The Ingenuity Helicopter will attempt to lift off Mars’ surface for 30 seconds. If the rotor-craft is able to lift off the ground, this will be a major milestone for future discoveries!
Ingenuity is a 4 pound rotor-craft that hitched a ride on the Perseverance Rover’s belly on its flight to Mars. Perseverance left Earth on July 30 and completed an almost 7-month journey by landing near the Jezero Crater on February 18. Perseverance is the first rover to land on Mars since Curiosity in 2012.
Perseverance’s mission is to search for signs of ancient life that could be preserved in clay deposits and store martian surface samples to return to us here on Earth. The surface samples will be picked up in a future mission. The rover will also be examining environmental conditions, like weather and dust, that could impact the possibility of living and working on Mars.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that will test a new capability for the first time. It’s mission is to test the technology needed to fly in the thin martian air. According to NASA, the helicopter has 4 carbon-filter blades that are in two rotors that spin in opposite directions faster than a normal helicopter here on Earth.
The milestone test flight was originally planned for this past Sunday, April 11. The helicopter’s test team decided to reschedule the full-speed test due to a command sequence ending the test early. After the early ended test, it was rescheduled for April 14, but it has been pushed back again as Ingenuity needs a flight software update.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory twitter, “validating and uplinking the software update will take time” due to communication delays across interplanetary distances. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages many of NASA’s robotic missions. Communications from Mars to Earth will have to travel 173 million miles and take just over 15 minutes. Because of the distance and delay, it makes it almost impossible to control Ingenuity manually here on Earth.
Ingenuity will have to pilot itself. Once Ingenuity is ready for its first milestone flight, it will take take off from the ground, hover 10 feet in the air up to 30 seconds, and then land! If Ingenuity’s test flight is successful, it will open the door for future missions to Mars, both robotic and human, and offer different viewpoints of the planet. It would also allow access to terrain that is currently difficult for ground rovers to reach.
Red Planet Selfie
A selfie was taken between Perseverance and Ingenuity on planet Mars earlier this month. Perseverance was able to take the picture using a wide angle topographic sensor camera located on its robotic arm. This selfie was stitched together with 62 pictures as Perseverance looked at the helicopter and then back at the camera.
The first selfie taken on another planet was by the Curiosity Rover on Mars in September of 2012.
WIND HEARD ON MARS
Just two days after landing near the Jezero Crater, Perseverance sent back the first ever recorded sound on another planet! Because we can hear wind on Mars, we now know that Mars has areas of high and low pressure, just like us here on Earth!
Areas of high and low pressure systems are created due to the sun not equally heating the Earth. Areas where the air is often warmed will have lower pressure because warm air rises. This creates clouds and then rain. Warm air is less dense than cool air, allowing for it to rise. Denser, cool air instead sinks. This creates dry, high pressure. This helps suppress cloud cover.
Mars also deals with solar radiation like us. Because we can now hear the sound of wind, this means the planet also has areas of high and low pressure. Wind flows from high to low pressure as the atmosphere tries to balance itself out. The closer these pressure systems are, the higher or stronger the wind will be. As this giant pressure systems battle it out for weeks, this creates long lasting giant dust storms.