The US space agency said on Saturday that NASA’s maiden Ingenuity helicopter flight to Mars could begin on Monday after a delay of more than a week due to a technical issue.
The Innovation Journey, the maiden flight of a robotic vehicle to another planet, aims to allow NASA to collect invaluable data on living conditions on Mars.
“NASA expects to begin the first flight of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter from Monday, April 19,” the agency said.
The data can be received “a few hours after the autonomous flight,” which should start around 3:30 p.m., according to NASA.
The flight is a real challenge, because the density of Mars’ air is equivalent to only 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. But by pushing air as it rotates, propellers can lift the plane.
This means that creativity has to rotate its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on Earth in order to fly.
After the flight, the helicopter will transmit technical data to the vehicle about what it has achieved, which in turn will be sent to Earth.
Among these early data, there will be a black and white image of the Earth captured by Ingenuity right below it when it is in the air.
The next day, once its batteries are recharged, the helicopter will send a color image of the horizon, captured by its other camera.
But the most wonderful pictures should come from the perseverance wagon, placed for observation several meters away, that should depict the flight.
If successful, the second flight may take place after four days at most. Up to five flights are planned in total, the difficulty increases.
NASA would like to be able to lift the helicopter to a height of up to five meters, and then try to move it to the side.
The process on Mars will be analogous to the first robotic flight on Earth, in 1903, by the Wright brothers. A piece of fabric from this plane that took off more than a century ago in North Carolina, USA, was placed on board Ingenuity.
Whatever happens, after a month or less, the creativity experiment will stop, leaving the industrious rover to dedicate itself to its main mission: to search for traces of ancient life on Mars.