NASA’s Mars Helicopter survived its first night standing alone on the surface of Mars, and it is more than just the concern of parents that made engineers on Earth worry about naivety. Launched from the underside of the Perseverance rover on Sunday, the helicopter may not have made its first record flight yet, but just arriving this morning unscathed is an achievement.
This is because the temperature extremes on Mars can be huge, and not particularly suitable for electronics. In the Jezero crater, for example, where Perseverance landed, it can drop to -130 Fahrenheit (-90 Celsius) at night. At these levels, electrical components can come loose and crack.
At the same time, Ingenuity’s batteries were also a point of concern. As anyone who has lived with an EV in a bitter winter knows, the cold and the battery capacity are not friends. Ingenuity’s batteries and electronic devices were protected, but it was still unclear whether everything that NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team that manages the Perseverance project had done would be sufficient.
Fortunately, the morning dawned and Naivety seems to have survived unscathed. “This is the first time that Ingenuity is on its own on the surface of Mars,” explains MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at JPL. “But now we have confirmation that we have the right insulation, the right heaters and enough battery power to survive the cold night, which is a big win for the team. We are excited to continue to prepare Ingenuity for its first flight test. “
It required not only specialized hardware, but intelligent use to maximize what is available on Mars. The helicopter’s heaters, for example, are obviously battery powered, which means that, once it deployed Ingenuity, Perseverance had to retreat quickly so as not to block the helicopter’s solar panels. It cannot go very far, however , as it is the helicopter’s relay for messages back to Earth.
This has already been used, even on the ground, to share some of the local color around Ingenuity. A camera mounted underneath, for example, showed the Martian surface it is on. Eventually, he will unroll his rotor blades – which NASA hopes will happen in the middle of this week – and then Ingenuity will undergo several engine tests and electronic checks.
The current goal is for the helicopter to take off on April 11. Hopefully, this will be the first of several flights during the so-called “Month of Naivety”, as the small aircraft becomes the first example of motorized flight on a different planet. Although no specific scientific effort is planned, he will send photos to show how the whole adventure is going.