Washington: NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity will attempt its first flight on the Red Planet on Sunday. The helicopter is scheduled to lift off close to the end of the day on April 11, the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet, according to NASA.
If all proceeds as planned, the 1.8-kilogram rotorcraft is expected to take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater Sunday, at 12:30 p.m. local Mars solar time, 10:54 p.m. Eastern Day Time (EDT), hovering 3 meters above the surface for up to 30 seconds.
Mission control specialists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California expect to receive the first data from the first flight attempt the following morning at around 4:15 a.m. EDT.
“While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters.
“We do tech demos like this to push the envelope of our experience and provide something on which the next missions and the next generation can build. Just as Ingenuity was inspired by the Wright brothers, future explorers will take off using both the data and inspiration from this mission,” he said.
Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one-third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1 per cent that of Earth, according to NASA.
If successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data at Mars for comparison to the modelling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth.
NASA also will gain its first hands-on experience operating a rotorcraft remotely at Mars. These datasets will be invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations, according to the agency.
Ingenuity arrived at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover. The helicopter is a technology demonstration with a planned test flight duration of up to 30 Martian days.
The rover will provide support during flight operations, taking images, collecting environmental data, and hosting the base station that enables the helicopter to communicate with mission controllers on Earth, according to NASA.