NASA said its robotic helicopter on Mars is aiming to make its first flight attempt on the distant planet on April 8 at the earliest.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter remains attached to the Perseverance rover that landed on the Red Planet on Feb. 18 and is currently is in transit to an airfield where it will attempt to fly.
“Once deployed, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days, or sols, (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flight campaign,” NASA said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters.
Since Mars has one-third of the Earth’s gravity and an atmosphere just 1% as dense as the Earth’s at the surface, flying Ingenuity in a controlled manner on Mars is more difficult than flying on Earth, while energy and temperature change will be issues for the flight, according to NASA.
“During Martian daytime, the planet’s surface receives only about half the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth during its daytime, and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), which can freeze and crack unprotected electrical components,” the statement said.
Bob Balaram, Mars helicopter chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said “Surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one.”