The board is set. The pieces are almost in motion. This week NASA provided the first shot of Ingenuity, a miniature Mars helicopter.
Here it’s seen stowed sideways, folded up and locked in place.The helicopter is nearly ready to make history with the first powered flight on another Planet.
The Mars helicopter could fly in early April
The teams behind NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter have selected an airfield on Mars for the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper and are preparing to fly in the near future.
“Ingenuity’s test flights are expected to begin no earlier than the first week of April,” NASA officials wrote in a mission update on Wednesday (March 17). “The exact timing of the first flight will remain fluid as engineers work out details on the timeline for deployments and vehicle positioning of Perseverance and Ingenuity.”
During a press conference on Tuesday (March 23) at 1:30 p.m. EDT, NASA will provide an update on the Ingenuity flight plan (17:30 GMT). You can watch it live directly on NASA’s website.
Perseverance, which landed inside the Red Planet’s 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, still has ingenuity tucked away in its belly. Perseverance will deploy Ingenuity onto the red dirt and drive about 330 feet (100 meters) away once it arrives at the chosen airfield. According to mission team members, the six-wheeled rover will attempt to document the little chopper’s flights using its Mastcam-Z camera suite and two microphones.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration designed to pave the way for future aerial exploration of Mars. It carries a high-resolution camera but no science instruments. NASA officials have stated that if Ingenuity’s flights are successful, future Red Planet missions may include helicopters that serve as scouts for rovers and/or gather data on their own.