Perseverance has landed on Mars. The rover, which was launched on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, touched down on Mars yesterday, February 18, 2021, after its six-month, 21-day-long journey to the Jezero Crater on the Red Planet. The rover’s mission is to look for signs of ancient life. The rover also has a very special payload, a vehicle that will attempt to do something first accomplished by a couple of brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, 117 years ago—fly for the first time on a planet.
That payload is the helicopter very aptly known as Ingenuity. NASA is calling it a technology demonstrator, but what a technology demonstrator it is! If it’s successful, it will become the first craft to ever fly on a planet other than Earth. Well, so far as we know, anyway!
The things working against Ingenuity, which the Wright Brothers didn’t have to contend with, are the chilly temps, around -130 degrees F. The atmosphere of Mars is also much thinner than Earth’s, with just one percent the density of Earth’s atmosphere.
Ingenuity has flown in such conditions on Earth, but doing so on Mars might present unforeseen obstacles, so its success is anything but a given. If it is does manage to go flying, the craft will conduct other missions, all of them sent to the helicopter from its controllers on Earth, though the lag in transmission time, around 20 minutes, precludes real-time control. So, Ingenuity’s flights will be largely autonomous as it flies its missions as directed.
How will it pull off vertical flight in such a thin atmosphere? By doing exactly what pilots would expect it to. It’s super light, weighing in at only four pounds, but with a rotor span of four feet for each of its two counter-rotating rotors that will spin wildly fast, at 2,400 revolutions per minute.
Ingenuity is expected to make its first flight this spring. So stay tuned!