For the first time in human history, a Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, to conduct a power flight test on a non-Earth planet landed on Mars on February 19, 2021, along with the Mars rover Perservation. Currently, Ingenuity is already preparing for a power flight test and has succeeded in ground communication.
A plan to pilot a small helicopter on Mars was announced in May 2018. The helicopter, named Ingenuity, which means creativity, was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida on July 30, 2020, and landed on Mars on February 19, 2021, along with the probe Perservance.
Ingenuity is scheduled to begin its 30 Mars solar day flight mission within 90 days after Perservance lands on Mars. On February 22, 2021, a signal arrived at the NASA control room indicating that Ingenuity has started a heater to keep the electronics working.
Mars’ gravity is one-third of Earth’s, but its atmospheric pressure is only 1% of Earth’s. Therefore, although Ingenuity is a helicopter flying with rotating wings like Earth, it is difficult to manipulate a helicopter like on Earth. The Ingenuity rotor, flying in the thin Martian atmosphere, has a structure in which two 1.2m wings rotate counter-rotating each other at 40 revolutions per second. The gas mass is also only 1.8 kg.
Ingenuity’s power is powered by a lithium-ion battery that is charged with solar panels. The average power during flight is 350W, and it can fly for 90 seconds per solar day on Mars. The Ingenuity flight altitude is up to 5m and the flight range is 300m.
Since communication between Mars and Earth takes an average of less than 30 minutes round trip, Ingenuity is fully autonomous. To achieve this, Ingenuity is equipped with Linux and fprime, an open source flight software framework.
If the Ingenuity experiment is successful, in the future, it is possible to investigate the terrain of areas that cannot be explored by ground probes such as cliffs, ice caps, and volcanoes, and to collect samples. In addition, as of February 27, 2021, Perseverance reportedly succeeded in updating software using an interplanetary network. Related information can be found here.