NASA's Ingenuity helicopter will attempt to fly on Mars for the fourth time today and could reach airspeeds of up to eight miles per hour as it soars for two minutes. The space agency said it would continue to push the 4lb copter to its limit in each subsequent test, this time almost doubling the speed of the third flight. The 18 inch tall craft will take off from'Wright Brothers Field' under the watchful gaze of the Perseverance rover at 10:12 EDT (15:12 BST), and soar up 16ft into the sky. Due to delays in sending data from the 187 million miles between Jezero crater on Mars and NASA JPL in California, we won't know if it worked until 13:21 EDT (18:21 BST). The small craft achieved all of its goals including flight duration, distance and speed, in the first three trips - so the fourth will'push the envelope' beyond what the small rotorcraft was designed to achieve by NASA JPL engineers. It will fly up to 16ft, head south over rocks, sand ripples and impact craters for 276ft and use its navigation camera to collect images of the surface every 4ft.
Later this week, NASA plans to launch its fourth Mars rover, Perseverance, on a six-month journey to the Red Planet. Perseverance will boot up a mission to collect samples of Martian dirt that might have traces of ancient life, so that they can be returned to Earth by another mission later this decade. It will also carry a payload unlike anything that's ever been boosted into space: a small autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity. Sometime next spring, probably in April, Ingenuity will spin up its rotor blades and become the first spacecraft to go airborne on Mars. "I see it as kind of a Wright brothers moment on another planet," says Bob Balaram, the chief engineer for the Mars helicopter project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's a high-risk, high-reward mission that could enable us to go to lots of places we haven't been able to go before."
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has completed its first flight on Mars, making it the first vehicle to attempt powered flight on another planet. "We've been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is," said MiMi Aung at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, speaking from mission control just after the flight. The craft rose to around 3 metres, pivoted towards the rover and landed after about 30 seconds. "To see it now finally happen on Mars, and happen exactly the way that we imagined it, is just a really incredibly feeling," said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity's chief pilot, during a later press conference. Video footage taken by the Perseverance rover shows a smooth takeoff and landing that looked almost exactly the same as the craft did during testing, Grip said.
NASA's Perseverance is gearing up to release the Ingenuity helicopter that will conduct the first controlled flights on another planet. Ingenuity is currently in the belly of the rover that is traveling to an'airfield' on Mars, which is deemed the perfect take-off site – a flat area with textured features to help the helicopter track its path. The deployment of Ingenuity from the belly of Perseverance will take about six sols to complete and from there the rotocopter will have to meet a series of milestones before attempting its first flight. NASA is targeting no earlier than April 8 for this event, which will see Ingenuity fly nine feet into the air, hover in place for 30 seconds and then land again on Mars' surface. And the team says if the helicopter can pull off the short flight, the entire mission will be deemed a success. If the rotorcraft lands successfully and remains operable, up to four more flights could be attempted, each one building on the success of the last.
NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter photographed by the Perseverance rover on 5 April The first drone on another world is ready to fly. The Ingenuity helicopter is primed to lift off from the surface of Mars on 12 April, which will be the first powered flight on another planet. NASA's Perseverance rover, which launched in July 2020 and arrived on Mars on 18 February, carried the Ingenuity helicopter folded up in its belly. After the rover landed, it dropped Ingenuity onto the ground and drove off so the drone could ready itself for its first flight. "It has survived launch, it has survived the journey through space, the vacuum and radiation, it has survived the entry and descent and landing onto the surface on the bottom of the Perseverance rover," said Bob Balaram at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Ingenuity's chief engineer, during a 23 March press conference.