Published: Mon, April 19, 2021
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NASA successfully completes first-ever controlled helicopter flight on another planet

NASA successfully completes first-ever controlled helicopter flight on another planet

The robot rotorcraft was carried to the red planet strapped to the belly of NASA's Mars rover Perseverance, a mobile astrobiology lab that touched down on February 18 in Jezero Crater after a almost seven-month journey through space.

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, meant to prove that rotorcraft flight could work on Mars. So beyond flying and capturing photos and video from the air, it won't conduct any science.

NASA's livestream, below, will begin at 6:15 a.m. ET on Monday, showing the agency's Space Flight Operations Facility as it receives data and possibly imagery from Ingenuity's flight.

"By its nature, it's going to have a little bit more risk than a normal mission", Ravich said. Throw in the extreme cold and a lengthy radio delay, and you've got a lot that can go wrong.

This is the first time a propelled vehicle has flown on another planet. The helicopter is set to record the ground below it using two cameras on its belly (one in black and white for navigation and one in color). An unexpectedly strong wind gust is one potential peril that could spoil the flight.

Just minutes later, video footage from the Perseverance rover, captured from its vantage point 65 metres away, showed the successful flight, which reached a height of approximately three metres.

Ingenuity NASA Makes History Again With First Controlled Flight on Mars

© NASA/JPL-Caltech A Perseverance "selfie" showcases cameras on the remote-sensing mast at the end of the rover's robotic arm.

The flight was originally scheduled for April 11th, however, the agency had to postpone the take-off as engineers worked on preflight checks and a solution to a command sequence issue.

Ingenuity actually has a much more powerful processor on board than even the Perseverance rover itself, and that's because it intends to gather massive amounts of data about what happens during its flight test so that it can transmit that to the rover, which then leapfrogs the information back to Earth. Ingenuity was therefore made extremely light and given the power to turn those blades extremely fast - at over 2,500 revolutions per minute. Only then will the NASA team learn if the test was successful. Ingenuity's engineers have since fixed the problem by tweaking the helicopter's flight-control software. The atmosphere is very thin, just 1% of the density here at Earth. Ingenuity re-did its full-speed spin test on Friday, and the blades performed as they should during flight.

During Mimi Aung's speech, following the confirmation of the successful test flight, the NASA project manager also paid tribute to the huge power of data sharing, by reaching out to NASA's enormous remote work team and saying "I'm hugging you [all] virtually".

NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity's airfield, measuring 33 feet by 33 feet (10 meters by 10 meters).

Following the confirmation of the flight's success and the reveal of the images from Ingenuity and the Perseverance rover, Mimi Aun, project manager at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), gave an emotional speech in which she likened the Ingenuity project's first successful test flight to a Wright Brothers moment.

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