Nasa’s Ingenuity helicopter needs to overcome these challenges before historic flight on Mars
- Nasa’s JPL had earlier announced that the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars will take place no earlier than April 11.
As the mission control at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) prepares for the first controlled flight on Mars, the team has highlighted the challenges Ingenuity helicopter needs to overcome. The US space agency recently released a photograph of Ingenuity in which the helicopter can be seen with all four of its legs deployed as it remains attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover.
Until now, the Perseverance has helped Ingenuity charge its battery as well as use a thermostat-controlled heater powered by the rover. On Friday, Bob Balaram, the chief engineer for the Mars helicopter project at Nasa's JPL, said in a blog post that the heater comfortably protects key components of Ingenuity, such as the battery and some of the sensitive electronics, from harm at very cold temperatures.
“This heater keeps the interior at about 45 degrees F (Fahrenheit) through the bitter cold of the Martian night, where temperatures can drop to as low as -130 F,” said Balaram.
Why hasn’t Perseverance dropped Ingenuity yet?
Since Ingenuity has to run its own heater from its own battery after the drop, the battery level will be an important factor in the helicopter’s survival and flight attempt. Balaram said that Perseverance will charge up the helicopter's battery to 100 per cent before Ingenuity drops the last few inches onto its “airfield.”
What are the other milestones before Ingenuity attempts its first flight on Mars?
The Perseverance rover will drive away from Ingenuity after the drop and the high-tech solar panel of the helicopter will be uncovered as soon as possible. Although the Sun’s energy is almost half as weak at the Red Planet as compared to the Earth on a bright day, it is enough for the solar panel to charge Ingenuity’s battery. However, Ingenuity has to survive the first night on its own after it sets the temperature of its thermostat to about 5 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
The team will check the temperatures the next day of the drop and the battery recharge performance over the next couple of days. Successful communication to and from the helicopter via the base station on the rover is also a prerequisite. “If it all looks good, then it's onto the next steps: unlocking the rotor blades, and testing out all the motors and sensors,” said Balaram.
Nasa’s JPL on Thursday announced that the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars will take place no earlier than April 11.