NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Makes First-Ever Powered Flight on Another Planet

Frames from a video show Ingenuity hovering above the Martian surface

Frames from a video show Ingenuity hovering above the Martian surface

The space agency's Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February, recently deployed a 1.8kg helicopter specially made for Martian conditions.

Built over three years at a cost of $US80 million ($105 million) from high-tech and off-the-shelf components, the helicopter had a singular mission: to prove it could fly.

NASA is about to find out what happened.

The mission team has received altimetry data confirming it flew this morning at 6:46 ET.

Nasa has already approved a helicopter mission to Titan, the big moon of Saturn.

The helicopter rose for about six seconds, hovered and rotated for about 30 seconds, then descended again.

While the images collected by the helicopter during its flights will not contribute to the main mission, they could help design more robust drones.

It's nearly time for the Ingenuity to take flight. Ingenuity weighs 4 pounds on Earth, but only 1.5 pounds on Mars. For Ingenuity, the delay is even longer as it must route its communications through the Perseverance rover.

These space drones could fly "over ravines, down canyons, up mountains", Josh Ravich, mechanical lead for the Ingenuity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Insider. "Well, you know, I'm hugging you virtually". So beyond flying and capturing photos and video from the air, it won't conduct any science.

The first visual indication that the Ingenuity helicopter's test flight was a success came in the form of an altimeter data graph (pictured below), the plateau on the graph indicating the moments in which the aircraft was hovering above the red planet. That's where engineers like Ravich will be waiting anxiously to hear from the helicopter.

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"Over the next month, the flights get progressively a little bit more advanced". "There's a lot of things that could go wrong".

The aim of the the next four flights is to fly the helicopter a little further each time. The helicopter is set to record the ground below it using two cameras on its belly (one in black and white for navigation and one in color). An unexpectedly strong wind gust is one potential peril that could spoil the flight. So the video footage from both robots should be available over the next few days, according to NASA officials.

© NASA/JPL-Caltech A Perseverance "selfie" showcases cameras on the remote-sensing mast at the end of the rover's robotic arm.

"The original flight date of April 11 shifted as engineers worked on preflight checks and a solution to a command sequence issue", NASA's latest update reads. Ingenuity was therefore made extremely light and given the power to turn those blades extremely fast - at over 2,500 revolutions per minute.

The atmosphere on Mars is very thin.

The livestream covering the test flight will kick off at 06:15 am EDT (10:15 am UTC).

The planned flight was delayed for a week by a technical glitch during a test spin of the aircraft's rotors on April 9.

The released debris shield, center, for the Ingenuity helicopter, dropped on the surface of Mars from the bottom of the Perseverance rover.

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.

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