NASA’s Perseverance rover is setting new precedents in interplanetary exploration. The rover will attempt to be the first aircraft landing on a planet other than Earth, proof that powered, controlled flight is possible on another planet.
On a trip that is roughly 314 million miles, NASA claims that the hardest part of the journey will be the last 5 inches of the trip. Being able to land safely on Mars takes precision and ingenuity, and NASA’s solution to this challenge fulfills these expectations. Rightfully named Ingenuity, the vehicle is the first helicopter that will attempt to fly on an extraterrestrial planet.
Ingenuity’s square fuselage is filled with computers, cameras, and batteries, but deciding the contents that go in the helicopter is a challenge. The helicopter needs to be as efficient as possible, while carrying the necessary items. Any variation would cause a change in the way that the helicopter would have to move. Ingenuity weighs about 4 pounds without the rover.
To describe this challenge, Chris Salvo, the helicopter interface lead, says this. “On a Mars rover mission, the addition of even one new washer is usually worthy of debate. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a large, fragile, unique assemblage of hardware that is dissimilar to anything NASA has ever accommodated on a planetary mission.”
The deployment process will take place on a suitable landing platform, around 33 by 33 foot patch of Martian land. On that patch of land, the Perseverance spacecraft will release Ingenuity out of the locking mechanism which it is held by. Upon release, the helicopter will begin rotating itself out of position, and will deploy its legs.
Hopefully, this expedition will result in a smooth landing, setting a new precedent for extraterrestrial travel. Proving that movement by aircraft is possible in planets outside of Earth is one giant leap for mankind.
“Ingenuity needs Perseverance,” says MiMi Aung, project manager for the Mars Helicopter. “The Mars Helicopter Delivery System is an ingenious gizmo and just one of the examples of how the Mars 2020 mission has worked above and beyond the call to accommodate our test project. Along with it and the helicopter, they had to incorporate an electronic base station and antenna dedicated entirely to helicopter operations into the rover. Our teams had to work closely together to make this complex system work. When Ingenuity flies, it will be an achievement we can all share.”
Being able to use aircraft on Mars will change things for future Mars expeditions. They could act as scouts for human crews, and explore places that neither people nor other robots could do. Ingenuity is a beacon of hope for everyone.