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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Ingenuity performes first powered flight on another planet

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has written history by performing the first powered flight on another planet. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, announced the successful flight earlier today at 12:46 UTC after receiving the data from Mars rover Perseverance.

Preparations ahead of the first flight

After a six months long journey through deep space, the small drone entered the Martian atmosphere attached to the belly of rover Perseverance on February 18, 2021 and successfully landed in the planet’s Jezero Crater. Shortly after the landing, preparations ahead of the historic flight began, by searching for a flat region within the ancient lake. This area would serve as the helicopter’s airfield. Once the team behind Ingenuity identified a usable spot, Perseverance jettisoned the debris shield, which until then protected Ingenuity against damages. The engineers afterwards began the deployment process, by turning Ingenuity from its vertical stowage position into a horizontal position. At the same time all four legs of the small craft successfully deployed. After Perseverance has arrived at the center of the airfield, Ingenuity was separated from the car-size rover on April 4 and dropped the final 10 centimeters to the surface.

Ingenuity on the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Ingenuity on the Martian surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Ingenuity’s first flight attempt

The first flight attempt on April 11 had to be delayed due to a command sequence issue occurring during a high-speed spin test of the craft’s two rotor blades. The problem was solved a few days later by modifing and reinstalling the helicopter’s flight control software. The second high-speed spin test on April 16 was successfully completed by the rotorcraft and the flight team selected April 19, 2021 as the new date for the historic first flight.

The flight

After all systems were “Go” this morning, the flight controllers commanded Ingenuity to spin up its rotors to launch speeds. All commands from JPL were relayed to the Mars Helicopter through the Perseverance rover. At 09:34 UTC / 12:33 Mars time, Ingenuity took off and climbed to an altitude of three meters. There the vehicle hovered for 30 seconds before beginning its descend. After 39.1 seconds, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter safely touched down again on the surface of the red planet. Due to the large distance between Earth and Mars however, the JPL was not able to confirm the success until Perseverance had sent back the flight data. During the flight, the rover was parked about 64 meters from the launch site, to avoid any damages to the vehicle.

Ingenuity's shadow captured by the rotorcraft itself. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Ingenuity’s shadow captured by the rotorcraft itself. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The first powered flight on another planet was achived 117 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright succeeded in the first powered flight on Earth.

So far NASA just released a short video and a few images from the historic flight. More will be released in the next few hours and days after Perseverance has relayed all data collected during the flight back to Earth.

Technical specifications of Ingenuity

Mass: 1.8 kg

Size: 49 cm tall

Diameter of the rotor blades: 1.2 m


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