Ingenuity helicopter: The first powered flight on Mars

Ingenuity features four specially made carbon-fiber blades, arranged into two rotors that spin in opposite directions at around 2,400 rpm – many times faster than a passenger helicopter on Earth.

By   |  Published: 11th Apr 2021  8:02 pm

The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration to test powered flight on another world for the first time. It hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover. Once the rover reaches a suitable “helipad” location, it will release Ingenuity to perform a series of test flights over a 30-Martian-day experimental window beginning in early April. Read more about the flight test in detail here….

For the first flight, the helicopter will take off a few feet from the ground, hover in the air for about 20 to 30 seconds, and land. That will be a major milestone: the very first powered flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars. After that, the team will attempt additional experimental flights of incrementally farther distance and greater altitude.

After the helicopter completes its technology demonstration, Perseverance will continue its scientific mission. However, NASA announced on April 10 it was postponing the first flight attempt of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars by at least three days after detecting a problem during a final pre-flight test.

Ingenuity is a flight test

Ingenuity features four specially made carbon-fiber blades, arranged into two rotors that spin in opposite directions at around 2,400 rpm – many times faster than a passenger helicopter on Earth. It also has innovative solar cells, batteries, and other components. Ingenuity doesn’t carry science instruments and is a separate experiment from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

The first attempt of controlled flight on another planet

What makes it hard for a helicopter to fly on Mars? For one thing, Mars’ thin atmosphere makes it difficult to achieve enough lift. Because the Mars atmosphere is 99% less dense than Earth’s, Ingenuity has to be light, with rotor blades that are much larger and spin much faster than what would be required for a helicopter of Ingenuity’s mass on Earth.

Explorer named by student

High school student Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, Alabama, originally submitted the name Ingenuity for the Mars 2020 rover, before it was named Perseverance, but NASA officials recognized the submission as a terrific name for the helicopter, given how much creative thinking the team employed to get the mission off the ground.

Aerial dimension for Mars exploration

Ingenuity is intended to demonstrate the technologies needed for flying in the Martian atmosphere. If successful, these technologies could enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that might be included in future robotic and human missions to Mars.

They could offer a unique viewpoint not provided by current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground, provide high-definition images and reconnaissance for robots or humans, and enable access to terrain that is difficult for rovers to reach.


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