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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter could finally fly into Martian skies on Monday. If the test flight is successful, it will be the first rotorcraft to fly on another world.
« The moment our team has been waiting for is almost here, » said Ingenuity Project Manager Mimi Aung of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., during a pre-flight press conference on April 9th. It is a mission nearly a decade in the making that could dramatically expand our ability to explore the solar system.
The test flight is currently not scheduled to take place earlier than this Monday, April 19th. Since the helicopter operators on Earth do not receive data from the mission until the early hours of the morning, NASA will begin the live stream of the events on Monday at 6:15 a.m. Follow here:
NASA’s Perseverance rover, which dutifully stowed the helicopter in its lower abdomen during the seven-month journey to Mars, landed on the Red Planet with almost no errors on February 18. On April 6, the rover rolled to a standstill and lowered the 4-pound helicopter to the surface of Mars. It turned its rotors for the first time on April 9th. Tomorrow could be the day when it finally starts.
« Since we dropped out, we’ve been working our way through these commissioning activities to check the helicopter, do calisthenics, and make sure all the engines, blades, and computers are working, » said Tim Canham, Ingenuity Operations Manager. said during the press conference. « We’re finally reaching the climax of all of these tests, and the helicopter is good. It looks healthy. »
Ingenuity’s inaugural flight will be short. By no later than about 3:30 a.m. EDT on Monday, the helicopter will take off, hover about 15 feet above the ground, face the rover, and then land gently. In total, it shouldn’t take more than 40 seconds.
Since it takes a few minutes for data to reach Earth from Mars, NASA engineers will only know the status of fully autonomous flight after the helicopter has landed. NASA officials said last Friday that they expect to receive and process all the necessary data within a few hours of the flight and then post some pictures of the helicopter’s joyride by Monday morning.
« We want the first flight make sure, « said Canham. If everything goes according to plan, according to the agency, additional flights within the roughly 30-day window will exceed the limits of the small helicopter and take it several hundred meters from its starting point.
The flight was originally scheduled to take place at the same time last weekend but was delayed due to a command sequence issue. The team spent the week testing two methods of solving the problem, and on April 16, they did a quick test of the helicopter’s rotors to clear the way for tomorrow’s flight.
Flying a helicopter on Mars is not easy. Since the Martian atmosphere is around 1 percent the density of Earth, the engineers have developed a flying machine that is specially adapted for flight on the Red Planet. For example, the rotorcraft’s ultra-light carbon fiber blades have to spin incredibly quickly to generate enough lift to lift it off the ground.
Ingenuity’s flight is one of many exciting projects currently developing. In addition to the mission’s main objective – collecting Martian soil samples for return to Earth later this decade – several exciting projects are taking place on the rover. One such project, NASA’s MOXIE instrument, will absorb carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere and attempt to convert it to oxygen – an important resource should humans ever get to the Martian surface.
Just as the Wright Brothers’ flight opened the skies to mankind here on earth, Ingenuity’s mission sparked a new wave of exciting projects to take the exploration of distant worlds to new heights. In 2027, NASA plans to launch its highly anticipated dragonfly mission, which will see a rotorcraft fly through the sky of Saturn’s moon Titan. Other missions to explore distant atmospheres – such as a mission to measure the clouds of Venus – may be in sight soon.
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