NASA had quite a historic week, with the Perseverance rover finally landing on Mars after seven long months of travelling through space. One of the first jobs Perseverance will be conducting is to deploy the Mars Ingenuity helicopter.
This process involves detaching the helicopter from the rover and then having it dial home to confirm that it still works after the arduous journey and landing. Now, it looks like we have confirmation that the helicopter is in working condition, as Ingenuity dialled mission control on Earth to let them know that it survived the rough seven-minute-long landing tucked underneath Perseverance.
Tim Canham, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter operations lead at JPL confirmed that both the helicopter and its base station ‘appear to be working great‘. The next step in getting Ingenuity airborn will be to charge the helicopter. This charging process will be completed in steps, with the first recharge taking place on February 20, which charged Ingenuity’s batteries to 30% of their full capacity.
Over the next few days, the six lithium-ion batteries will be charged once again to 35%, with future charging sessions planned weekly while the helicopter is attached to the rover.
Once Ingenuity has enough juice in its batteries, the helicopter will have a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight test window. If Ingenuity survives its first few Martian nights – where temperatures dip as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius – the team will proceed with the first flight of an aircraft on another world.
If Ingenuity succeeds in taking off and hovering during its first flight, over 90% of the project’s goals will have been achieved. If the rotorcraft lands successfully and remains operable, up to four more flights could be attempted, each one building on the success of the last.
Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter I carry, is working as expected. I’m currently charging it, but once I set it down, it’ll rely solely on its solar panels. If it survives the brutally cold Martian nights, the team will attempt flight. https://t.co/8pksN06ZwP #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/80kEoww0QU
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) February 20, 2021
According to MiMi Aung, project manager for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL, “We are in uncharted territory, but this team is used to that. “Just about every milestone from here through the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each has to succeed for us to go on to the next. We’ll enjoy this good news for the moment, but then we have to get back to work.”