The small Ingenuity helicopter, which made a long journey to Mars attached to the Perseverance rover, may make its first flight attempt soon. Until the big day arrives, the helicopter continues to “drop” from the bottom of the Perseverance rover, which is where it stayed to stay protected. Now, Ingenuity already has its legs suspended over the surface of Mars and can make its first flight in early April, probably on the 8th.
In a video recently published by NASA, it is possible to see Ingenuity unfolding while still being attached to the bottom of the rover. The process to open it took almost a week and started with Ingenuity being released from Perseverance’s “belly”. Little by little, it was positioned until it was horizontal, and now the helicopter has its legs mounted and suspended over the Martian soil. The video was made by the SHERLOC instrument, equipped with the WATSON camera (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering).
Now, the Perseverance rover will take Ingenuity to its “flight base”, which will be an area of 10 m² in length carefully selected to be as safe as possible for the aircraft – that is, the location will be flat and unobstructed. When this location is found, the rover will position Ingenuity and move away while it charges its solar energy batteries. In the meantime, the mission team will carry out some tests to check that everything is ready for the flight attempt.
As Ingenuity is a demonstration of technology, it will not conduct scientific studies on the Red Planet. Its mission is to test new technology to make the first autonomous flights in another world, which could provide even more ways to explore the Solar System. For this, the team needs to ensure that the helicopter will be able to keep warm during the Martian nights, in addition to loading autonomously with the solar panels.
In addition, they will also check that the four legs of Ingenuity have been firmly on the surface of the Jezero crater, that the Perseverance is five meters away and that the communication between the helicopter, the rover and the team is happening correctly. During the first flight attempt, the helicopter must climb up to 3 meters in altitude for about 30 seconds, to land smoothly on the ground. After that, depending on the results, the team will be able to take advantage of the 30-day Martian window – which is equivalent to 31 days on Earth – to make other flights and even risk some maneuvers, with Perseverance following everything from a distance.
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