The first alien helicopter will not be flying around Mars yet. The unmanned aircraft was scheduled to make its first short flight over the Red Planet overnight from Sunday to Monday (Dutch time), but it was postponed. A technical problem arose during a rehearsal. A new take-off attempt will take place next Wednesday at the earliest.
The American Marshelicopter is called ingenuity. It was launched in July as baggage in the hold of the Marskarretje Perseverance (Volharding). Together, they landed on Mars in mid-February. About a week ago, ingenuity was brought to the surface. Ingenuity stands almost three feet tall and weighs about 2 pounds.
In preparation for the first flight, flight controls spun the helicopter’s rotors on Friday. An error has occurred in the code on board. The Ingenuity computer warned flight controllers that something was wrong. This is currently under investigation. “The helicopter is safe and healthy and sent all the data to Earth,” US space agency NASA said on Saturday.
The first flight was scheduled for Monday 04:54 Dutch time. The intention was for the Ingenuity to reach a height of a few meters in three seconds. It would linger there for 30 seconds, before landing in the same place in a controlled manner. This first flight is a test. If successful, the Marshelicopter can then fly about five times, each time a few hundred yards away. It will probably last about a month on Mars.
One of the tasks of the Ingenuity is to deal with the low atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars. This can be compared to the pressure at an altitude of 30 kilometers on earth. Ground helicopters cannot fly that high. Charging the batteries is also difficult, Mars receives about half of the solar energy on Earth during the day. At night, the parts on board are exposed to temperatures of up to 90 degrees below zero.
If the technology works on Mars, helicopters could help explore an alien destination much faster.
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