On April 19, the Ingenuity helicopter successfully passed all the necessary checks and took off from the surface of Mars. After having risen three meters up, the helicopter hovered in place for 30 seconds and got back to the surface of the Red Planet. This flight marked the era of air travel outside the Earth.
“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
The helicopter worked out the technology of flight in a rarefied Martian atmosphere. The density of its atmosphere is about 100 times lower than that on Earth. Therefore, the mini-helicopter is equipped with two carbon-fiber rotor blades with a diameter of 120 centimeters. They are forced to rotate very quickly in order to raise the craft above the surface.
The helicopter was delivered to Mars being attached to the bottom of the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity's main task is to demonstrate the technology and test the first flights on Mars. The $85 million helicopter is a tiny structure weighing 1.8 kg. Its task is also to study Mars from the air: it can hover over the object for 30 seconds and take high-quality pictures with two cameras.
The main difficulty for the engineers was that Mars has a very rarefied atmosphere. Therefore, the rotor blades were made very large and powerful – they can rotate at a speed of 2,500 rpm.
In the future, the device is going to be used for reconnaissance of the route and photographing the Perseverance rover from the side. The helicopter has four more test flights ahead.
The first flight was planned for April 11, but a problem arose during the test launch of the rotor blades. When they reached 2,500 rpm, one of the watchdog sensors was triggered. To check and fix everything, the first flight was postponed to April 19.
Perseverance, on the other hand, is intended for exploration in the Jezero crater area. The rover has rather ambitious tasks of collecting samples, looking for signs of past microbial life, assessing viability, and preparing for the landing of humans on Mars.