One step closer to its first flight to Mars is the helicopter Ingenuity of NASA. On Saturday, the space company announced that the helicopter had successfully landed on the planet's surface since Perseverance rover, which essentially served as the Ingenuity space taxi, charging station and heater until now.
NASA's $ 80 million helicopter arrived on Mars in February and was attached to the belly of a Rover Perseverance. Recently, Perseverance took Ingenuity to its destination: a 10 by 10 meter airport, which was chosen due to its flat surface and lack of obstacles. There the helicopter will attempt the first, controlled flight of another aircraft planet.
Once the vehicle reached the exact spot where NASA wanted it to be, the complex development process began. The all-day event included turning the helicopter from a horizontal to a vertical position, extending its legs and charging Ingenuity's six battery cells via Perseverance for the last time.
The most stressful moment of course came on Saturday, when the rover dropped the Ingenuity from a distance of 10 cm on the surface of Mars. In the end, the effort was successful.
«@NASAPersevere made the final drop 10 cm from the rover's belly to the surface of Mars. Next milestone: to survive the nightNASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
And while the comment about survival may sound like a phrase that wants to have a dramatic effect, NASA literally means it. Such as explained ο Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the Mars Helicopter Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, until now Ingenuity was connected to Perseverance, which allowed it to charge its battery and used the rover-controlled thermostat to keep its interior in 7 ° C.
Having a heater is very important on Mars, where temperatures can drop to -90 ° C at night. The heater protects sensitive components, such as the helicopter batteries and electronic systems, from damage, such as freezing or cracking, that can be caused by low temperatures.
Now that it is alone, the helicopter will have to get used to colder temperatures. It should also be based on its ability to produce energy. Before leaving Perseverance, Ingenuity charged its batteries to 100%. Now you have to rely on solar energy.
Balaram said that his energy Sun. is weaker on Mars, about half of what we will find on Earth on a sunny day. However, it is enough for the solar panel of the helicopter to charge its batteries.
«Ingenuity can not afford to keep its internal temperature at 7 ° C, as it would need a lot of valuable battery power", Said Balaram. «Instead, when it is on the planet's surface after leaving, it will set the thermostat to -15 ° C or lower. Then he will be ready to survive the first night alone!»
The Ingenuity team waited to receive news from the helicopter on Sunday to confirm if they had made it through the first night and if their solar panel was working as expected. There are currently no additional updates on how Ingenuity did on Sunday.
In the coming days, the Ingenuity team will check the rover's temperatures and recharge performance. If these tests prove to be good, then NASA will proceed to unlock the helicopter fins and test its engines and sensors. On Saturday, NASA said that Ingenuity's first flight attempt would not take place earlier than April 11, with data being taken to Earth on April 12. The helicopter will have 31 days to make the test flight.