NASA wants to fly a helicopter on Mars for the first time
More than a century after the first powered flight on Earth, NASA intends to prove it's possible to replicate the feat on another world, AFP reports.
Transported aboard the Mars 2020 spacecraft that arrives at the Red Planet on Thursday, the small Ingenuity helicopter will have several challenges to overcome -- the biggest being the rarefied Martian atmosphere, which is just one percent the density of Earth's.
It might be called a helicopter, but in appearance it's closer to mini-drones we've grown accustomed to seeing in recent years.
Weighing just four pounds (1.8 kilograms), its blades are much larger and spin about five times faster -- 2,400 revolutions per minute -- than would be required to generate the same amount of lift back on Earth.
It does however get some assistance from Mars, where the gravity is only a third of that on our home planet.
Ingenuity has four feet, a box-like body, and four carbon-fiber blades arranged in two rotors spinning in opposite directions. It comes with two cameras, computers, and navigation sensors.
It's also equipped with solar cells to recharge its batteries, much of the energy being used for staying warm on cold Martian nights, where temperatures fall to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).
The helicopter is hitching a ride on the belly of the Perseverance rover, which will drop it to the ground once it has landed then drive away.
Up to five flights of gradual difficulty are planned, over a window of one month, within the first few months of the mission.
Ingenuity will fly at altitudes of 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) and travel as far as 160 feet (50 meters) from its starting area and back.
NASA describes Ingenuity's mission as a "technology demonstration": a project that seeks to test a new capability together with the astrobiology mission of Perseverance.