NASA Set to Make Powered, Controlled Flight over the Martian Surface

A remarkable feat in engineering, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will be a crucial part of NASA ’s next mission to the Red Planet. The nasa helicopter will travel with the Perseverance Rover to the Martian surface, where it will have to separate from the rover and carry out its objectives. This separation has proven to be one of the biggest challenges in the project’s development because even an additional kg of weight will require more fuel to lift off the Earth, thanks to our planet’s gravity. Scientists and engineers in-charge had to limit the Helicopter’s and all its attached instruments’ weight to 2 kg.

Even so the positioning of the ‘copter puzzled the scientists, until they finally decided to strap it to the rover’s underside (or belly), leaving only 12 cm (or 5 inches) of room to work with. The working of the rover is as follows (as per the NASA Website):

“Ingenuity will be deployed about two months after Perseverance lands on Feb. 18, 2021. During early surface operations, both the rover and helicopter teams will be on the lookout for potential airfields — a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) patch of Martian real estate that is comparatively flat, level, obstruction-free and viewable by Perseverance when the rover is parked about a football field away.

On around the 60th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, Perseverance will drop the Mars Helicopter Delivery System’s graphite composite debris shield that protected the helicopter during landing. Then it will drive into the center of the chosen airfield. About six days later, after the helicopter and rover teams are satisfied everything is gone, they’ll command Mars Helicopter Delivery System to do its thing.

The deployment process begins with the release of a locking mechanism that keeps the helicopter in place. Then a cable-cutting pyrotechnic device fires, allowing a spring-loaded arm that holds the helicopter to begin rotating Ingenuity out of its horizontal position. Along the way, a small electric motor will pull the arm until it latches, bringing the helicopter body completely vertical with two of its spring-loaded landing legs deployed. Another pyrotechnic fire, releasing the other legs.”

There are lots of variables at play, including Martian weather and the stability of the multitude of connections involved (both between the helicopter and the rover as well as the instruments and mission control on Earth). The mission will search for signs of the existence of life on the Red Planet, and collect samples to be examined on future return to Earth.

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