- Rebecca Morell
- BBC science affairs correspondent
On Monday, NASA launches a helicopter from the surface of Mars, in a move that may become historic.
If all goes well, it will be the first human-controlled flight to another planet.
The Mars helicopter, called “Enginute”, is scheduled to reach a height of approximately 3 meters, fly for about 30 seconds, rotate on its axis, and then land.
But taking off the plane will not be an easy matter, given that this technology has not been tried before, and that flight conditions are difficult.
The “Enginute” is scheduled to start on Monday morning, but the initial data revealing the success of the experiment will not reach Earth until approximately three hours later.
This information must pass through the NASA rover and satellite located on Mars, all the way to the NASA “Jet Propulsion Laboratory”.
Where does the trip take place?
The spacecraft known as Perseverance or “Perseverance” has landed in an area of the Red Planet called Jizero Crater. The robot carried a helicopter under it during its dangerous landing on Mars in February.
Then the spacecraft traveled to a “helipad” about 20 meters from the place of its landing, and there the Ingeniotti helicopter landed on the surface of Mars and took a selfie of it and the plane.
Engineers say the helicopter appears to be in good condition for its test flight.
And if the flight is successful, NASA will try to make four more helicopter flights in the coming days, with each flight taking the plane to a place a little further away. .
What makes flying on Mars difficult?
The nature of the atmosphere on Mars is different, as it is very thin, as its density does not exceed 1 percent of the density on Earth. This does not give off much of the air needed to propel it.
But the force of gravity on the red planet is less, and this is a helpful factor, however, engineers built the helicopter to be very light, weighing only 1.8 kg.
Above the fuselage are two 1.2-meter-long propellers that rotate in opposite directions, at speeds of up to 2,500 rpm. That’s superfast, about two-thirds of the speed of sound on Mars. This will provide Ingenuity the power it needs to rise.
And NASA is monitoring the winds in the Jezero region. Wind speeds can reach 20 meters per second. This is faster than what has been tested on the ground, but the team believes that the helicopter is ready to perform the task.
What photos will we see?
On board the helicopter, there are two cameras, one in black and white directed at the ground and used for navigation, and the other in color and high-resolution, with its lenses facing the horizon.
The vehicle will also move away to a distance of about 65 meters. The telephoto feature will be used in its cameras to obtain some close-up shots of the helicopter’s flight. And with some luck, we might get a video recording as well.
All of this has complications. Both the rover and the helicopter operate independently and carry separate hours. The timers must be synchronized for imaging to be possible.
Why do you promise? This trip Task؟
The US space agency says the flight will be “the Wright Brothers’ moment,” referring to the launch of the first controlled flight of a powered and controllable plane here on Earth in 1903.
To celebrate this, a piece of postage stamp-sized tapestry from the wing of the Wright Brothers’ plane was affixed to the “Enginuity” helicopter before it left Earth. It is reported that the Wright brothers’ first journey took only 12 seconds. And great things always start with small steps.
Hopefully, this will eventually change how we explore some distant worlds.
NASA has already agreed to send a helicopter to Titan, the big moon of Saturn. This moon has a very thick atmosphere. The vehicle, known as Dragonfly, will reach Titan in the mid-2030s.