After a short and dramatic descent today, NASA’s Perseverance rover has successfully landed on Mars, giving the space agency yet another set of instruments to explore the Red Planet. As NASA previously revealed, Perseverance is carrying an unprecedented experimental machine: Ingenuity, the only helicopter that humanity has placed on another planet.
NASA refers to Ingenuity as a “demonstration of technology”, which will be used to test the operation of a motorized aircraft on another planet. The agency warned that this is a very experimental test and that it cannot yet say whether Ingenuity will be able to successfully take off and fly on the Red Planet.
Assuming the helicopter takes off and flies as planned, NASA will conduct several flight tests over a period of 30 days starting this spring. To begin, Ingenuity will fly just a few feet from the ground for about half a minute before landing. This will be an “important milestone”, explains NASA, marking the first motorized flight to take place on Mars.
Additional flight tests will further expand the boundaries, keeping the helicopter in the air longer and taking it further. After a Martian month demonstrating Ingenuity’s technology, NASA will return to its Perseverance rover mission. Only minimal NASA commands will be sent to Ingenuity, with the aircraft doing most of its maneuvers on its own.
The helicopter has four rotors, but it doesn’t look like the type of helicopter you know. The model weighs less than two kilos and was specially designed to deal with the hostile environment of Mars. Ingenuity will be able to reach about 15 feet from the ground and cover distances of about 980 feet at a time.