Science

NASA helicopter survives first icy night on Mars

It’s another milestone in NASA’s Mars mission: the tiny Ingenuity helicopter has detached itself from the robotic jeep Perseverance and survived its first night completely autonomously. This advanced drone will allow us to explore the Red Planet in a new way.

Marshelicopter Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet aboard the unmanned scout Perseverance in February. After being found with the rover for more than a month, Ingenuity has left the nest and is getting ready for its first flight.

The Ingenuity will soon be able to explore Mars from the sky thanks to its own solar panels. The helicopter had to survive its first icy night, with temperatures dropping to -90 degrees. But that didn’t deter the tiny drone, which was able to experience its first solo sunrise on Mars. According to NASA researchers, this is an “important step” in the exploration of Mars.

First flight on the way

What is still planned for the Ingenuity? First, NASA researchers will further test the engines and sensors of the mini-helicopter. Only after the results of these tests have been analyzed will a first flight be considered. According to NASA, this maiden flight will not take place before April 11.

Low air pressure

Such a flight is not easy. The air pressure on Mars is only 1 percent of that on Earth, making it more difficult for machines like the Ingenuity to fly around the planet. For example, the propellers of the drone must rotate eight times faster than on Earth in order to take off. Before the first flight, NASA hopes to get the Ingenuity off the ground and let it float for at least 30 seconds. The ultimate goal is to get the drone more than 300 meters above the ground.

The flights with the Ingenuity are primarily a purely technological challenge with the aim of improving future Mars rovers. Once test flights with the Ingenuity are complete, NASA will move on to the next step in exploring the Red Planet: sending Perseverance to the cliffs of an ancient river delta to search for fossils of ancient alien microbes on Mars. (mah)

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