Mankind has been eyeing to go to Mars for quite some time now. That’s because living on planets other than our Earth is the major step in becoming an interplanetary species. There have been numerous attempts to scour the Red Planet in order to study its composition, surface, and atmosphere.
Among the rovers that will trek its surface is NASA’s $2.7Bn Perseverance. And it’s also bringing a Mars helicopter called Ingenuity which will be the first-of-its-kind. While the rover is on a mission to find signs of alien life on February 18, the $85M Mars helicopter will conduct a series of flight tests to check how things will carry out. If proven successful, they could help scientists and astronomers find new ways and approaches in future planet explorations.
Challenges Facing NASA’s Mars Helicopter
Despite pioneering technology though, Ingenuity is expected to face various challenges along the way. For instance, Ingenuity’s internal heaters should always stay warm. That’s because Martian nights can reach frigid temperatures as low as negative 130°F.
And since nobody has ever flown to Mars, many unknown factors linger. Just last month, an attempt to plant a “mole” on NASA’s Insight lander failed, when it encountered a layer of soil too thick to burrow.
According to Matt Wallace, deputy project manager at NASA, it’s a high-risk, high-reward attempt. He added that there’s a high probability of encountering issues, but we’ll learn from them whenever they occur.
What’s Behind The Mars Helicopter’s Name
The name was originally submitted by an Alabama high schooler named Vaneeza Rupani for a Mars rover, which was eventually named Perseverance. But NASA decided that ‘Ingenuity’ would perfectly fit the Mars helicopter because of the ton of creative thinking and innovation it took. She said that Ingenuity is the kind of thinking that allows humans to accomplish amazing feats.
Here’s What To Expect If The Ingenuity Mission Succeeds:
The Mars Helicopter Will Provide The First Martian Drone Footage
The Martian air is just 1% of the density of Earth’s atmosphere, so flying might still be difficult for Ingenuity, even though if it’s less than 2 kilos. According to MiMi Aung, the one leading the project at NASA, two challenges must be addressed: The first is making the rotorcraft light enough to be lifted. The second one is how to generate lift.
The rotors must spin in opposite directions at about 2,400 rpm to generate lift. It will be powered by solar energy. Moreover, controlling the spacecraft on Earth won’t be in real-time, so engineers programmed Ingenuity to carry its flights autonomously within one Earth month.
Meanwhile, the first test is just basic hovering for about 10 feet in the air. Each of the tests will be more difficult and complex than the other. Two cameras (one colored, one black and white) will act as the rotorcraft’s pair of eyes. They will record Ingenuity’s flight missions.
They will provide footage captured by drones on another world like never before. Personally, it’s already exciting just by thinking of it.
NASA has plans to send another helicopter mission called the Dragonfly on Titan in 2026. This time, the Mars helicopter would be a nuclear-powered one, with a mission to search for extraterrestrial life as well.
Aung added that everything learned from here is for the sake of future rotorcraft systems in future space explorations.
The Success Means More Ambitious Aerial Dimension In The Future
Ingenuity possesses intricate tech dedicated to the Martian mission. If the mission succeeds, the technology and experience from flying the Mars helicopter could enable more advanced missions in the future. Possible uses of a future rotorcraft include providing a more unique view of the Martian landscape; HD images and reconnaissance for humans and bots; access to difficult terrain; and even carry cargo from one place to another.
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