France Press agencyPosted on Friday April 09, 2021 at 22h49
NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter rotated its propellers for the first time in a test, before its scheduled flight Sunday night through Monday, the first from a robotic vehicle to another planet.
“The helicopter is fine, it is in good health,” Tim Canham, Director of Operations at Ingenuity, said at a press conference on Friday.
“Last night (…) we turned the fans very slowly and carefully,” he said.
The moment was captured by the persistence chariot, several meters away, on which the helicopter has been transported since it landed on Mars on February 18, before separating from it at the end of last week.
NASA released a very short video of the spacecraft – which looks more like a large drone – with its propellers spinning.
The US Space Agency announced that the first flight will take place on Monday at 02:54 GMT (Sunday at 22:54 on the eastern coast of the United States).
The first data is expected to hit the ground on Monday at around 08:15 GMT (04:15 on the eastern coast of the United States). A live feed from NASA teams analyzing this first data will be visible on the space agency’s website.
The first flight will take 40 seconds in total, and the helicopter will only lift vertically before flying. “We’re going to take off, go up to a height of three meters, and we’re going to turn in the direction of the rover, take a picture, and then come back down,” Tim Canham said.
NASA plans up to five increasingly difficult flights, over a period of one month.
Mi Mi Ong, helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said the final test of the propellers still had to be done on Friday, this time at “full speed”.
Flying through Mars air is a challenge, as it has a density equivalent to only 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. Even if the gravity was less than on Earth, the NASA teams had to develop an ultra-light machine (1.8 kg), and the propellers would spin much faster than an ordinary helicopter.
What are the chances of success of this trip? “The only uncertainty remains the Martian environment,” especially “wind,” said Mi Aung. It summed up as a “high risk” experience, but with a “big bonus” if it succeeded.