The World’s First Helicopter to Leave Earth Has Landed on Mars
The first helicopter to ever leave Earth has landed on Mars and is doing just fine. The Ingenuity Helicopter landed with Perseverance Rover on Thursday, February 18th after launching last summer on July 30th. The helicopter was strapped to the belly of the rover, while both machines re-charged mid-flight. Both machines are awake and communicating with controllers on Earth.
The Ingenuity Helicopter will be the first-ever to fly on another planet. It weighs only around 4 pounds and has limited capabilities. This first helicopter is a test flight to pave the way for future aircraft to travel to other planets.
Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at NASA said that they are trying to find “powered flight using an experimental aircraft” as the Wright Brothers did with Earth’s atmosphere.
Ingenuity is on a completely separate mission from the Perseverance Rover it traveled with. The two were simply traveling companions on the long trip over. Once landed on Mars, Ingenuity emerged from the Rover and began its own mission.
Perseverance’s landing spot, the Jezero Crater, is extremely cold. Temperatures at night drop to -130 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of Ingenuity’s power will go directly towards keeping warm rather than the flight itself.
The helicopter has been designed completely differently than a traditional helicopter here on Earth. Not only does it have to be able to survive in extremely cold weather, but it has to be able to function in Mars’ thin atmosphere, which is 99% less dense than Earth’s. This is why Ingenuity is so lightweight and stands a mere 19 inches tall.
The small helicopter has two rotors that span out about 4 feet and spins in opposite directions at about 2,400 rpm, which is significantly faster than a typical helicopter on Earth. Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) won’t be able to control Ingenuity while it is actually flying. Because of the communication delays, the commands will be sent in advance of the anticipated flights, and the JPL team won’t know the results of each flight until it is over. At this time Ingenuity is able to make its own decisions on how to keep itself warm in the extremely cold climate.
Since the landing, Ingenuity has performed all of the anticipated tasks without any issues. The next step is for the helicopter to take off for the first time, hovering just a few feet from the ground for about 30 seconds. JPL employees are comparing the helicopter flights to a baby bird learning to fly.
Everything Ingenuity Helicopter experiences and captures with its two cameras are going to shape and change air and space travel.
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