More than a century after the first powered flight on Earth, NASA intended to prove that it is possible to fly a machine on another planet. Riding on the Mars 2020 mission, which arrives at its destination on Tuesday, the small Ingenuity helicopter must achieve one feat: an increase in air with a density equal to only 1% of Earth’s atmosphere.
Looks like a really big drone. The main challenge for engineers: to make it as light as possible, so that it can lift itself in extremely light air. It eventually weighs only 1.8 kg.
It is made up of four feet, one body and two superimple propellers. It measures 1.2 meters from the other end of a blade. The standard chopper will move at a speed of 2,400 rpm (revolutions per minute), about five times faster.
Ingenuity is equipped with solar panels to recharge its batteries, much of the energy being used for warming (it’s -90 ° C at night on Mars). It can also take photos and videos.
The helicopter was placed under the belly of the main mission vehicle, the Perseverance Rover. Once on Mars, it will be dropped to the ground, and the rover will roll over it to get away from it.
At the beginning of the mission, five flights of gradual difficulty are planned, over a one-month window.
It can grow up to 5 meters in height, and up to 300 meters, but it will be greatly reduced for the first test.
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Each flight can last a minute and a half, “which is no small feat compared to the 12 seconds of the first powered flight on Earth”, argues NASA.
No joystick to control it, due to a broadcast delay of about twenty minutes between Earth and Mars. It will fly independently: commands will be sent but then it has to be thanked for a series of sensors to help it navigate. The results of the flights will be received long after their results.
This experiment is what NASA calls a demonstration mission: it has no scientific purpose, except to prove that it is possible to fly on Mars, and to collect data on the behavior of a ship on another planet.
In the future, such machines could “open a new era of Mars exploration,” said Bob Balaram, the project’s chief engineer. For example where the rover can’t go (over the cannons …).
We can also think that they will go to see, then bring back to one base, the samples deposited by previous missions. For example, in the next phase of the March 2020 mission, samples that will start collecting strongly.