On Monday, April 19, 2021, the US Space Agency (NASA) announced that its "Ingenuity" miniature helicopter carried out a first historic sortie in the atmosphere of Mars, thus becoming the first motor vehicle to fly over another planet. </p><div> <p>
The news was greeted with applause and cheers of joy in the control room of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“We can now say that humans have succeeded in making a motor vehicle fly over another planet,” said helicopter project leader Mimi Ong with great enthusiasm.
Scientists and hobbyists have followed live online NASA engineers’ analysis of data sent to Earth hours after the flight.
NASA attached its historic announcement to a short video clip of the journey taken by the “Perseverance” rover, which arrived on board “Ingenuity” to the Red Planet before separation from it.
The clip shows the spacecraft flying at a height of three meters before landing on Mars.
The helicopter itself sent a black and white image showing its shadow over the Red Planet.
After it was scheduled for April 11, the flight was postponed due to a technical problem that arose during tests on its propellers.
Taking off in the Martian atmosphere is a challenge, as its density does not exceed one percent of the density of the Earth’s atmosphere, knowing that the air force by the rotation of the helicopter’s propellers is what enables it to fly.
This means that the “Ingenuity” propellers must spin much faster than those on a regular helicopter do to be able to fly.
“There are fewer propellant particles” on Mars, Mimi Aung explained before the flyby.
Although gravity is lower than that on Earth, NASA’s technical teams had to develop a super-lightweight vehicle (1.8 kg) with propellers that rotate at a speed much higher than those of regular helicopters, to succeed in the mission.
The helicopter consists of four legs, a chassis and two propellers superimposed. It measures 1.2 meters long from one end of the blade to the other, and looks like a huge march.
– “Surprises” await
This Martian event is as important as the achievement represented by the first motorized flight on the planet in 1903. A small piece of cloth from the Wright brothers’ plane that took off on this mission more than a century ago in North Carolina, was placed on “Ingenuity” in greeting For the first ground flight.
To ensure that “no risk” was taken on this first flight, according to Tim Canham, special operations officer for this helicopter, the vehicle rose vertically to a height of three meters. Then it hovered in place before landing again.
The spacecraft received guidance from Earth hours earlier, but it flew independently by autonomously analyzing its position relative to the planet’s surface.
The next day, once its batteries are recharged, the helicopter will send a color image of the horizon that should have been taken by its other camera.
But the most prominent pictures will be those that will be taken by “Perseverance” of the helicopter sortie, from the observation point where it is stationed a few meters away.
Elsa Jensen, in charge of cameras in the “Perseverance” rover, said that the full video will be sent “in the following days,” explaining, “We will have surprises, and you will know about them at the same time with us. So let’s all get popcorn” to follow up on the show.
– “the risk”
According to Mimi Ong, NASA prepared four scenarios: complete success, partial success, imperfect data, or failure.
After the helicopter succeeds in its mission, it may run out of its second sortie after four days at most. NASA intends to conduct up to five sorties spread over a month and are graded in difficulty.
“NASA” hopes to be able to raise the helicopter to a height of five meters, to try at this level to make it move sideways.
Mimi Aung indicated that the “life span of” the helicopter “will be renewed according to the way it descends” each time, that is, whether it succeeds in avoiding a collision.
“When we get to the fourth or fifth flight, the situation will be amusing,” she said. “We really want to push her vehicle to its limits” and “the risk.”
Whatever happens, the “Ingenuity” experiment will stop after a month or less, to allow the “Perseverance” rover to devote itself to its main mission of searching for ancient traces of life on Mars.