First ever helicopter flight on Mars to be tested today

Jezero Crater

Nasa hopes to make history with helicopter's test flight on Mars

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter travelled on Mars underneath the Mars Perseverance Rover.

"We've been talking for so long about our Wright brothers moment, and here it is".

The atmosphere in the room turned nearly giddy when a still photo shot from the helicopter captured its shadow on the ground, followed by video of the aircraft's flight, captured by the nearby Mars rover.

The robot rotorcraft was carried to the red planet strapped to the belly of Nasa's Mars rover Perseverance, a mobile astrobiology lab that touched down on February 18 in Jezero Crater after a almost seven-month journey through space.

If all goes to plan, the 1.8 kilogramme whirligig will slowly ascend straight up to an altitude of three metres above the Martian surface, hover in place for 30 seconds, then rotate before descending to a gentle landing on all four legs.

NASA confirmed the successful flight during a live broadcast at 10:52 GMT, when data from the flight, which was conducted roughly three hours earlier, arrived back on Earth. Created to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere, the blades are much larger than would be needed for a similar-sized helicopter on Earth.

"Over the next month, the flights get progressively a little bit more advanced".

But Dragonfly is still only the beginning of NASA's space-drone dreams.

Engineers say the helicopter is in great shape and is ready for the test flight.

To accomplish all that, the helicopter's twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute - five times faster than on Earth.

While Mars possesses much less gravity to overcome than Earth, its atmosphere is just one per cent as dense, presenting a special challenge for aerodynamic lift. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. Below that are two carbon fiber rotors that turn in opposite directions.

Following the confirmation of the flight's success and the reveal of the images from Ingenuity and the Perseverance rover, Mimi Aun, project manager at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), gave an emotional speech in which she likened the Ingenuity project's first successful test flight to a Wright Brothers moment.

The small, lightweight aircraft already passed an early crucial test by demonstrating it could withstand punishing cold, with nighttime temperatures dropping as low as 130 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), using solar power alone to recharge and keep internal components properly heated. The helicopter was released from the rover onto the airfield on April 3.

The livestream covering the test flight will kick off at 06:15 am EDT (10:15 am UTC). High-altitude helicopters here on Earth could also benefit - imagine choppers easily navigating the Himalayas.

Success hinges on Ingenuity executing the pre-programmed flight instructions using an autonomous pilot and navigation system. That's because the rover needs to get on with its main mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past Martian life, for return to Earth a decade from now. "But we know there'll be surprises", said Elsa Jensen, uplink operations lead.

Ontario closes all golf courses amid Canada’s recent COVID spike