Bengaluru: NASA Monday announced the first successful flight of the small helicopter Ingenuity on Mars.
The craft flew for 40 seconds and hovered 10 feet above the surface of the planet before performing a powered, soft touchdown. Cameras underneath the craft captured its shadow as it rose above the ground.
This is the first powered and controlled flight on another planet.
The little rotorcraft that could.🚁💨
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 19, 2021
The 1.8kg spacecraft will perform a series of controlled flights over the next 30 days. It is a technology demonstrator without a scientific mission, and is a part of the Mars 2020 mission which includes the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity flew at 0730 UTC (1300 IST) but data and subsequent NASA coverage was available only at 1015 UTC (1545 IST). The spacecraft was scheduled to fly earlier but its maiden flight was delayed due to a timing error that required a software update.
The helicopter’s flight was also photographed by the Perseverance rover, which is located 100m away from the airfield. The craft was located inside the rover’s body during landing and was released on 3 April.
You wouldn’t believe what I just saw.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2021
Mars atmosphere is 1% the atmospheric volume of Earth
The flight of the aircraft is challenging owing to the nature of the Martian atmosphere, which is too thin to be comparable to Earth’s but also too thick to be disregarded.
To fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere, which is about 1 per cent the atmospheric volume of Earth’s atmosphere, the blades rotate really fast, at about 2,400 revolutions per minute (rpm).
Helicopters on Earth, which are actually subject to three times as much gravity, spin at 500 rpm.
The Ingenuity helicopter has two rotors rotating anti-clockwise, stacked on each other. And their wing span is about 1.2m. it is designed to fly for 90 seconds at a stretch, and will attempt five flights.
The successful test flight marks a major milestone in humanity’s attempts to settle on other planets and NASA is expected to build on Ingenuity’s design for future Mars missions.
Ingenuity also carries with it a piece of fabric from the first-ever airplane constructed by the Wright Brothers in 1903.
(Edited by Rachel John)