Early on Monday, a robotic helicopter that NASA despatched to Mars will attempt to rise just a few toes within the air, hover and come again down. With that easy feat, it could change into the primary machine to fly by way of the wispy air of the purple planet. NASA officers have been likening it to the Wright brothers flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Never earlier than has one thing like an airplane or a helicopter taken off on one other world.
The Mars helicopter, named Ingenuity, traveled from Earth tucked beneath NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed in February on the mission to seek for indicators of historic life close to a dried-up river delta. A few weeks in the past, Perseverance dropped Ingenuity on a flat Martian plain forward of the flight checks.
Ingenuity is small. Its most important physique is concerning the dimension of a softball with 4 spindly legs protruding. On high are two units of blades, every about 4 toes from tip to tip. They will spin in reverse instructions at about 2,500 rotations per minute, the speedy speeds wanted to generate sufficient raise for Ingenuity to get off the bottom.
When will Ingenuity fly and how can I watch it?
At the Ingenuity website on Mars, which is inside an historic crater named Jezero, it will likely be the center of the day, about 12:30 p.m. native Mars photo voltaic time. (The time zones on the purple planet don’t have names, but.)
For folks on Earth, that interprets to about three:30 a.m. Eastern time on Monday. But nobody on Earth will know for hours whether or not the flight has succeeded or failed, or if something has occurred in any respect. Neither Ingenuity nor Perseverance will keep in touch with NASA at the moment.
Instead, the 2 spacecraft will conduct the flight autonomously, executing instructions that have been despatched to them on Sunday. Later, Perseverance will send data back to Earth via a spacecraft orbiting Mars.
NASA TV will begin broadcast from the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory beginning at 6:15 a.m. Eastern time as the data starts arriving on Earth. You can watch it on NASA’s website.
Additional information will be provided at a news conference at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.
What will happen during the test flight?
The first flight is to be a modest up-and-down trip, rising up to an altitude of just 10 feet. There, it will hover for up to 30 seconds and then descend to a landing. Its onboard camera will record images, helping the navigation system maintain the helicopter’s level. On the ground more than 200 feet away, the Perseverance’s cameras will also record the flight.
If the test flight succeeds, up to four more could be attempted. The first three are designed to test basic abilities of the helicopter. The third flight could fly a distance 160 feet and then return.
The final two flights could travel farther, but NASA officials did not want to speculate how much.
NASA wants to wrap up the tests within 30 Martian days of when Ingenuity was dropped off, so that Perseverance can commence the main portion of its $2.7 billion mission. It will leave the helicopter behind and head toward a river delta along the rim of Jezero crater where sediments, and perhaps chemical hints of ancient life, are preserved.
Ingenuity was an $85 million nice-to-have, add-on project but not a core requirement for the success of Perseverance.
Why is flying a helicopter on Mars so difficult?
There is not much air to push against to generate lift.
At the surface of Mars, the atmosphere is just 1/100th as dense as Earth’s. The lesser gravity — one-third of what you feel here — helps with getting airborne. But taking off from the surface of Mars is comparable to flying at an altitude of 100,000 feet on Earth. No helicopter on our planet has flown that high, and it’s more than two times the typical flying altitude of jetliners.
Why is NASA flying a helicopter on Mars?
Until 1997, all of the spacecraft sent to the surface of Mars had been stationary landers. But that year, the Pathfinder mission included something revolutionary for NASA: a wheeled robot. That rover, Sojourner, was roughly the size of a short filing cabinet, and planetary scientists quickly realized the benefits of being able to move around the Martian landscape. Four more NASA rovers, including Perseverance, have since followed to the red planet.
Ingenuity is in essence the aerial counterpart of Sojourner, a demonstration of a novel technology that may be used more extensively on later missions. And demonstrating that the helicopter can fly on Mars may help inform flight attempts on other worlds in our solar system, such as Titan, the moon of Saturn where NASA plans to send a nuclear-powered quadcopter.