With a delay of more than a week due to a technical issue, the Ingenuity helicopter will attempt to take off on Mars on Monday.
The US space agency said on Saturday that the first flight of NASA’s Ingenuity small helicopter to Mars may begin on Monday after a delay of more than a week due to a technical issue. The Innovation Journey, the first flight of a robotic device to another planet, should allow NASA to collect invaluable data on life conditions on Mars.
“NASA expects to begin the first flight of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter from Monday, April 19,” the agency said. The data can be obtained “a few hours after the autonomous flight,” which should start around 03:30 (09:30 in Switzerland), according to NASA.
The flight is a real challenge, because the density of Mars’ air is equivalent to only 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. However, by forcing air as it rotates, fans can lift the device. This means that creativity has to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on the ground to fly.
Five trips planned in total
After the flight, the helicopter will transmit technical data to the vehicle about what it has achieved, which in turn will be sent to Earth. Among these early data, there will be a black and white image of the Earth captured by Ingenuity right below it when it is in the air.
The next day, once its batteries are recharged, the helicopter will send a color image of the horizon, captured by its other camera. But the most spectacular photos should come from the perseverance wagon, placed for observation several meters away, that should depict the flight.
If successful, the second flight may take place after four days at most. Up to five flights are planned in total, the difficulty increases. NASA would like to be able to lift the helicopter to a height of up to 5 meters, and then try to get it to move sideways.
The process on Mars will be analogous to the first robotic flight on Earth, in 1903, by the Wright brothers. A piece of fabric from this plane that took off more than a century ago in North Carolina, USA, was placed on board Ingenuity. Whatever happens, after a month or less, the creativity experiment will stop, leaving the industrious rover to dedicate itself to its main mission: to search for traces of ancient life on Mars.