NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Saturday that the attempt to fly the first powered, controlled flight on Mars has been delayed to no earlier than Wednesday, April 14th.
#MarsHelicopter 1st flight attempt delayed to no earlier than April 14
During the high-speed spin test, the sequence ended early during the transition from "preflight" to "flight" mode. The helicopter is safe & healthy. The team is diagnosing the issue. https://t.co/ysnZzKR7qM pic.twitter.com/lP3NrIvGBs
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 10, 2021
Back in February, NASA successfully landed their Mars 2020/Perseverance rover on the Red Planet on the Jezaro Crater. Arriving with it, a helicopter named Ingenuity that’s scheduled to put the limits of flight to the test. “Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.
Safe & sound on the surface of Mars: the #MarsHelicopter, Ingenuity, has survived the first cold night on its own, a major milestone for the small rotorcraft because surface temps can plunge as low as -130 degrees F (-90 degrees C). https://t.co/IqrL757Peg pic.twitter.com/MkSe1UNLKG
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 5, 2021
It’s been more than a century since the first powered, control flight happened on Earth. On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully covered a span of 120 feet in 12 seconds near Kitty Hawk, NC, with their aircraft the “Flyer.” To commemorate that important moment in time, Ingenuity will be carrying with it a small piece of the material from the Wright brothers’ aircraft as it makes it’s inaugural flight.
"We are very proud to honor that experimental aircraft from long ago, by carrying a small piece of fabric on Ingenuity."@NASAJPL chief engineer Bob Balaram explains how the #MarsHelicopter carries a small piece of the Wright Brothers' original Flyer 1: pic.twitter.com/S7S3pBbJbt
— NASA (@NASA) March 23, 2021
Right now, the first attempt by NASA to get the helicopter into flight will be no earlier than April 14 as there is still a series of milestones that need to be met. The reason this date could change will depend on what changes engineers might need to make pertaining to the deployments, preflight checks, and vehicle positioning of both Perseverance and Ingenuity.
What’s the process look like? The rover first needs to get to the “airfield” where Ingenuity will take off from and then once the helicopter is deployed, there’s a window of only 30 Martian days, or sols, (31 Earth days) for the test flight to occur. According to a NASA press release, it’s far more difficult to fly in the Martian atmosphere than it would be on Earth — Mars has significant gravity (about one-third that of Earth’s), but its atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth’s at the surface.
“Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.”
Once Ingenuity is in place on it’s airfield, there’s a whole process that will take six sols in order for deployment to take place and undergo this experimental engineering flight test.
“As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before,” said Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover. “Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn’t going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea what is going on.”
✅Climb to an altitude of 3 meters
✅Hover in place for 30 seconds
✅Land @NASAJPL Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip explains step-by-step how the first test flight of the #MarsHelicopter will go: pic.twitter.com/VQLoS1HxIl
— NASA (@NASA) March 23, 2021
When the steps are all complete to prepare for the flight, the team at NASA still has more work to do to finalize everything and decide what time the flight will take place. They will communicate with Ingenuity through the Perseverance rover, which will act as a liaison to rely the final flight instructions to the helicopter. According to NASA, several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance. Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second), the helicopter will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.
“Mars is hard,” said said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. “Our plan is to work whatever the Red Planet throws at us the very same way we handled every challenge we’ve faced over the past six years – together, with tenacity and a lot of hard work, and a little Ingenuity.”
We will be covering the latest on Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars, and if you want to learn more about the mission and helicopter in general, check out these links from NASA which breaks everything down in more detail.