The delay of the engine’s flight on Mars
The additional three days give the Ingenuity team the time it needs to get a better read of what that energy cycle looks like and, more importantly, make sure your energy is positive throughout every step of the process. The first flight of the helicopter will occur with a full battery and it will only fly a couple of meters during that first flight before returning to the surface of Mars. It won’t go higher than about 15 feet, according to NASA.
“This next step (flying for the first time) is huge,” Mars helicopter operations leader Tim Canham said during a question-and-answer session on ingenuity today. “Can it climb, float and land safely? That will be a great moment of triumph for the helicopter team.”
Sights and Sounds of Mars from NASA’s Perseverance Rover
It is currently scheduled for April 11, although an official time has not been announced. However, the flight will not be broadcast live. People on Earth will not see anything of the flight until the telemetry of the flight recovers, which will take a couple of suns, or Martian days, which is about 40 minutes longer than days on Earth. NASA said the Perseverance rover, which is the rover that recently landed on Mars and brought Ingenuity to the planet with it, will be watching the flight from about 65 meters away. It will take photos that will eventually make it to Earth, but that could take some time, too.
Why NASA’s Ingenuity Flight Is So Important
What makes this first flight a milestone for NASA, beyond being the first flight of a helicopter on Mars, is that it is powered entirely by pre-programmed sequences. There are no joysticks involved, nor is the helicopter remotely controlled.
“The (flight) sequences were pre-built by the team on the ground,” Perseverance operations engineer Elio Morillo said during NASA’s question-and-answer session. “These sequences have been tested over the years, (but) they are prepackaged. We have no real-time control of the helicopter. It is completely autonomous.”This posed many challenges for the Ingenuity team. What happens if there is a gust of Martian wind during a flight? The helicopter has sensors that can detect those gusts of wind and correct its heading accordingly. However, for the most part, pre-designed flight sequences have been tested over and over again on cameras that simulate what Ingenuity is experiencing on Mars.
Perseverance will observe Ingenuity’s first flight from about 65 meters from the helicopter in the Van Zyl Overlook. It will take images and the team is currently determining whether the rover will be able to record sound. It has a directional microphone on board, but the team is not sure if, due to the distance, it will be able to pick up the sound of the helicopter.
Perseverance Integration Leader Farah Alibay said it is important to remember that the atmosphere of Mars, which is 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere, is quite different from our planet, and as a result, the sound travels differently in it.
After the first flight, perseverance and resourcefulness will go their separate ways. The device will begin to charge and prepare for its next flight and Perseverance will return to its original mission: collecting samples from Mars to send them back to Earth during a later mission. However, the two vehicles will continue to communicate by radio. The base team will speak with Perseverance and Perseverance will relay the messages to Ingenuity. The helicopter will respond to perseverance and the rover will relay the message to Earth.
The main mission of the ingenuity on Mars
When it comes to the big picture of Ingenuity, its mission is to serve as a technology demonstration.
“The device is a test vehicle for Mars,” Canham said. “It will take super detailed records … 500 times per second … (for us) to see what happened and characterize the flight on Mars. A suitable analogy is the Mars Pathfinder and Sojourner: testing something that has never been done before. and learn a lot from him … so that future engineers and scientists can make bigger and better helicopters for Mars. “
As you wait for the first Ingenuity flight to Mars next week, watch this story about Perseverance’s successful landing on Mars in February, and then watch this video of the rover landing. Read this story about the first sights and sounds Perseverance captured after that and then watch this story about a message hidden in the rover’s parachute.
Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer, guidebook creator, and science guru for IGN. You can follow it on Twitter @LeBlancWes.