NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter First Flight

On 19th Monday 2021, NASA’s Ingenuity flew on Mars becoming the first-ever aircraft to attempt and succeed in a powered, controlled flight on another planet. Ingenuity is a helicopter developed by NASA’s JPL Caltech, as proof of the concept of powered flight on extra-terrestrial worlds, thus it did not carry any science equipment.

Most of this helicopter is built with off-the-shelf parts that are readily available. It consists of a Li-ion battery pack that stores energy produced by the solar panels on board the helicopter. Among several motors, the motor that drives the propellers is a brushed DC motor and there are powers two propellers. The propellers are specially designed for the Martian environment. The propellers have a large wingspan (1.2 m) and a steeper angle of attack (unlike the quad-copters propellers we see here on Earth) considering the low air pressure at the Martian surface. The propellers are made with carbon fiber to reduce weight and increase strength. The two propellers rotate in opposite directions to counter the rotational torque produce by each other.

On 19th at 07:34 (GMT) Ingenuity became airborne, and it stayed in the air for 39.1 seconds, with 30-second stable hovering 3 meters above the Martian surface. Although Ingenuity can be controlled from Perseverance rover, this first flight was an autonomous test flight and all the steps were carried out by the onboard computer.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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