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NASA Announces Details Of Historic Helicopter Flight On Mars, First Ever Controlled Flight On Another Planet

by : Cameron Frew on : 24 Mar 2021 08:20
NASA Announces Details Of Historic Helicopter Flight On Mars, First Ever Controlled Flight On Another PlanetPA Images/NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has shared details about the first flight of Ingenuity, a Mars helicopter which will soon make history.

As I type and you read, Perseverance is searching the Red Planet for signs of ancient life, slowly completing its mission of collecting samples and rock and regolith for a possible return to Earth.

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Aboard the rover is a small chopper known as Ingenuity, attached to its belly and weighing around 1.8kg. Soon, the rotorcraft will attempt its maiden flight on Mars, marking our first ever controlled fight on another planet.

NASA Announces Details Of Historic Helicopter Flight On Mars, First Ever Controlled Flight On Another PlanetPA Images

Perseverance touched down on Mars on February 18. The following month, it dropped the graphite composite debris shield which protected the helicopter during landing.

The rover is currently making its way to the ‘airfield’ area where it will hopefully attempt to fly, with a total of 30 Martian days – also known as sols, equating to 30 days on Earth – to complete its test flight.

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According to a press release, NASA is looking at no earlier than April 8 for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to make the first attempt at powered, controlled flight – however, a number of challenges remain before it’s possible, such as finding an appropriate spot to fly from and ensuring it can operate on the planet’s lesser solar energy.

Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, said: ‘When NASA’s Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research.’

She added: ‘Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.’

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While Mars has a reasonable level of gravity compared to Earth, its atmosphere is just 1% as dense as ours. Each day, there’s only around half the amount of solar energy Earth would usually receive, with temperatures at night dropping as low as -90C, which could be hazardous to electrical parts.

NASA scientists rigorously tested Ingenuity in its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, looking at its rotors, solar panels, electrical heaters and other components.

Bob Balaram, Mars helicopter chief engineer at JPL: ‘Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft. And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.’

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: Technology, Mars, NASA, News, Now

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  1. NASA

    NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Prepares for First Flight