This coming Sunday, NASA’s drone, Ingenuity, will take to the Martian sky, but before that the space faring organisation needed to insure that the autonomous helicopter could survive a night on Mars.
This is an important milestone to reach because unlike Earth, temperatures on the surface of Mars can descend to as low as -125 degrees Celsius. Temperatures this low can damage onboard components including the batteries required for flight.
Since arriving on Mars, Ingenuity has been tucked under the belly of the Perseverance rover. On 3rd April, Ingenuity was ejected from the rover and the 1.8kg drone had to survive on its own. The temperature that night according to NASA hit -90 degrees Celsius.
“This is the first time that Ingenuity has been on its own on the surface of Mars,” explained Ingenuity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, MiMi Aung.
“But we now have confirmation that we have the right insulation, the right heaters, and enough energy in its battery to survive the cold night, which is a big win for the team. We’re excited to continue to prepare Ingenuity for its first flight test,” added Aung.
Ingenuity is currently at the Jezero Crater, the same area the Perseverance rover touched down on back in February. If the drone takes off this coming Sunday, NASA will have wormed its way into the history books yet again. This is because should Ingenuity fly, it will be the first powered flight on another planet.
Today, 7th April, NASA will be hoping to reach yet another milestone.
The restraints holding the rotor blades are set to be released today and should NASA reach that milestone it will be able to conduct more pre-flight tests.
“If the mission team meets that milestone, the next several sols will involve more testing of the rotor blades as well as the motors that drive them. There are also checkouts of the inertial measurement unit (an electronic device that measures a body’s orientation and angular rate) and onboard computers tasked with autonomously flying the helicopter. Additionally, the team will continue to monitor the helicopter’s energy performance, including assessment of solar-array power and state of charge of the craft’s six lithium ion batteries,” explained NASA.
If all goes well Ingenuity will take to the skies no sooner than 11th April.
While space tech is always cool, Ingenuity is perhaps the coolest.
The mini helicopter is completely autonomous and spent six years in development. So far the little drone has survived a trip to Mars and now it’s headed for the history books.
For those who want to watch the mission unfortunately that won’t happen. NASA will be hosting a livestream on Sunday that will confirm the first flight you can watch here.