NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will make history's first attempt at powered flight on another planet next spring. It is riding with the agency's next mission to Mars (the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover) as it launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station later this summer. Perseverance, with Ingenuity attached to its belly, will land on Mars February 18, 2021. As a technology demonstration, Ingenuity is testing a new capability for the first time: showing controlled flight is possible in the very thin Martian atmosphere. If successful, Ingenuity could lead to an aerial dimension to space exploration, aiding both robots and humans in the future. For more about Ingenuity, visit https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/ Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
[Havard Grip] Sometimes you have to do something just to show that you can do it. When the Wright brothers flew for the first time, they flew in an experimental aircraft and in the same way, the Mars helicopter is designed to show that we can fly a powered helicopter flight in the Martian atmosphere.
[Mimi Aung] From day one, this was the unwavering dream of our team to get our helicopter launched to mars so that we can get the opportunity to do that very first roto-craft flight test in the actual environment of Mars. It's extremely difficult to fly at Mars because the atmosphere is so thin. Compared to Earth's, Mars' is less than 1%. So the first and foremost challenge is to make a vehicle that's light enough to be lifted. And then the second is to generate lift. The roto system has just been very fast. 2000, 2,200, 2,400, 2,600. We're spinning between 2,000 and 3,000 revolutions per minute and it takes a lot of energy. So it's that balance of a very light system yet having enough energy that's needed to spin the rotors so fast to lift and on top of it, having to design in the autonomy.
[Havard] It has to be fully autonomous from the time it takes off to the time it lands. What we do do on the ground is we plan the flights and so we determine from here where we want the helicopter to go.
[Mimi] Our experiment window is 30 Martian days. So we have planned up to five flights of incremental difficulty.
[Havard] The very first flight, the main thing is, we want to get the legs off the ground. And so we will basically go up about three meters and we'll hover there and then we'll come down again. And that will be the first really major milestone.
[Bob Balaram] Most of the flights will be at the three to five meter height. We will be going horizontally, again, at a few meters per second. Only go out, you know, 50, 70 meters and come back. In successive flights, we will probably push that further, try to go further. So our priority will be to get back engineering telemetry and not so much images, but I'm sure we'll return a few, you know, because they always look cool.
[Mimi] At this point we've tested all we can on Earth. We have mathematical models that shows how it will fly at Mars and we've tested it in the simulated environment that we can create on Earth. It really is time now to do the real flight test at Mars.
[Bob] Nothing is a given but we have done everything we can in terms of a test program here on Earth. The way it goes performing extremely well so far. It's been doing exactly the right thing even right now when it's bolted onto the Perseverance rover so it's very good chance that we will pull it off. Yes. But it's still high risk and none of us forget that you could have a glitch that could mean end of mission. Yes.
[Mimi] It's going to be exciting reacting to any surprises we have. We can't wait. What's really most important is everything we're learning here is for the future roto-craft systems that we want to introduce into space exploration.