NASA wants to fly a helicopter to Mars for the first time

Posted on Monday February 15, 2021 at 21:40

More than a century after the first powered flight on Earth, NASA intends to prove that it is possible for a machine to fly on another planet. After being transported aboard the March 2020 mission, which arrives at its destination on Thursday, the small helicopter will have a milestone: rising in the air at a density equivalent to only 1% of Earth’s atmosphere.

Lightweight helicopter

The creativity actually looks more like a large drone. The main challenge for engineers: Make it as light as possible, so that it can lift itself in very light air. It ultimately weighs just 1.8 kg.

It consisted of four feet, a body and two superimposed fans. It measures 1.2 meters long from one end of the blade to the other. The propellers will spin at 2,400 revolutions per minute (revolutions per minute), which is five times faster than a regular helicopter.


Ingenuity is equipped with solar panels to recharge its batteries, and a lot of energy is used for heating (-90 ° C at night on Mars). It can also take photos and videos.

The helicopter is placed under the belly of the persistent rover, the main mission vehicle. Once on Mars, it will be dropped to Earth, and the rover will roll over it to turn away from it.

– 90 seconds trip

Up to five trips of progressive difficulty are planned, over a one-month window, at the start of the mission.

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It can go up to 5 meters and travel up to 300 meters, but it will go much lower on the first test.

Each flight can take up to a minute and a half, “which is no small feat compared to the 12 seconds” of the first powered flight on Earth, NASA says.

Due to the transmission delay of about twenty minutes between Earth and Mars, there is no joystick to control it. It will fly autonomously: it will send commands but will then have to defend itself thanks to a series of sensors that help it navigate. The results of the trips will be received long after their results.

– To do what?

This experiment is what NASA calls an illustrative mission: it has no scientific aim, other than to demonstrate that it is possible to fly on Mars, and to collect data about the behavior of a ship on another planet.

In the future, such machines could “usher in a whole new era of Mars exploration,” says Bob Palram, the project’s chief engineer, excited. By going, for example, to where the rovers cannot go (over the canyons …).

We can also imagine that they will go to search, and then return to a base, samples deposited by previous missions. For example, the samples that you must persist in collecting, in the next phase of the March 2020 mission.

Stan Shaw

<p class="sign">"Professional food nerd. Internet scholar. Typical bacon buff. Passionate creator."</p>

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