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“The Wright brothers demonstrated that it was possible in a powered flight in the Earth’s atmosphere using an experimental airplane. Now we are trying to do the same on Mars”. Håvard Grip, the jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA, is the lead pilot of the helicopter Ingenuity, the first attempt to fly on another planet. The artifact, considered a wonder of engineering, will be launched from the Air Force Station of Cape Canaveral in Florida, probably prior to 30 July aboard the mission Mars 2020 . Will travel attached to the belly of the brand-new rover Perseverance , intended for to search for life on the red Planet. If you have success, it can be the precedent of a new way air explore Mars and, why not, also other worlds.

Ingenuity (the name means “Wit” in English and was proposed by a student) is a bird lightweight. Weighs only 1.8 pounds, but it has some ambitions are huge. For a start, it is a technology demonstration , a project that seeks to test a new ability for the first time, with a limited scope. Features a four-bladed carbon fiber arranged in two rotors that rotate in opposite directions to around 2400 rpm, many times faster than a helicopter passenger in the Land. It also has solar cells innovative, batteries and other components. Does not carry scientific instruments and is a separate experiment from the Perseverance, the rover’s most advanced ever built.

The most exciting part of this helicopter is that after the landing of the mission in the crater Jerezo the 18 of February of 2021 and if everything goes as expected, will carry out the first attempt in History to fly on another planet. Ingenuity is displayed in the belly of the Perseverance, where you have traveled up until this time, during the spring and attempt to fly. It is not an easy task. On the one hand, the thin atmosphere of Mars complicates achieving an elevation sufficient. It is precisely because the martian atmosphere is 99% less dense than the Earth, that Ingenuity should be light, with shovels, much larger and spin much more quickly that I would need a helicopter of the same mass on the Earth.

Another challenge will be the cold creepy in the crater Jezero, where the nights go down to -90ºC. However, the team has tested the spacecraft in the Earth, temperatures on mars and believes that it should work.

Ingenuity, on the martian soil while Perseverance, to his left, away – NASA / JPL-CaltechCuatro flights

But, how do you control the helicopter? No one should think of a kind of drone. Flight controllers at JPL will not be able to direct it with a joystick. Due to delays in the communication, the commands must be sent with great anticipation, and the engineering data will come back much after that occurs every flight. Meanwhile, Ingenuity will have a lot of autonomy to make their own decisions about their flight.

Ingenuity must overcome a series of milestones, from survive the launch, travel and landing, passing by the deployment of secure, stay warm in the cold nights on mars or loaded independently of your solar panel. If he is successful in his first attempt at flight, will attempt to make other four within a window of 30 days martians (31 earth days). When a ship lands on Mars, everything is so complicated and there are so many things that can go wrong that engineers refer to that time as the “seven minutes of terror”. Well, this helicopter is going to be of a heart attack, because the repeats every time you try to take off or land.

A single point of view

The ingenuity aims to demonstrate the technologies necessary to fly in the martian atmosphere. If it fails, it will not affect the scientific results of the mission Mars 2020. If it works, other helicopters could be included in future robotic missions and human Mars. Its objective is to offer a unique point of view not provided by the orbiters current to a great height, or by rovers and aterrizadores on the floor. Their high-resolution images would allow access to terrain that is difficult to achieve for the rovers.

“The team at Ingenuity has done everything possible to test the helicopter in the Earth, and we hope to fly our experiment on the real-world environment of Mars,” says Mimi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity in the JPL. “We learn all the time and it will be the best reward for our team to be able to add another dimension to the way we explore other worlds in the future.”