NASA will attempt its first flight out of the world in early April

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Washington (AFP)

NASA is targeting in early April for the Ingenuity Mars helicopter to make the first attempt at powered and controlled flight to another planet, the space agency said on Tuesday.

At present, the ultralight aircraft remains attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which landed on the Red Planet on February 18.

On Sunday, Perseverance dropped the debris shield that had protected Ingenuity during the landing, and is now heading towards the “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt its flights.

Once there, he will have 30 Martian soils – or 31 Earth days – to carry out his mission.

“The best guess we have at the moment is April 8,” for the first flight, said Bob Balaram, chief engineer of Mars Helicopter at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, although he added that it could be sooner or later. in a few days.

Balaram first revealed that Ingenuity wore a small piece of fabric that covered one of the wings of the Wright Brothers’ first plane that made the first powered flight to Earth at Kitty Hawk in 1903, to pay homage to this milestone important.

Ingenuity will attempt to fly in an atmosphere that is one percent of Earth’s density, making it more difficult to achieve lift – but will be assisted by a gravity that is one-third that of our planet.

The first flight will involve climbing at a speed of about three feet (one meter) per second to a height of 10 feet (three meters), hovering there for 30 seconds, then descending to the surface.

Ingenuity will take high resolution photos in flight.

Before that happens, however, Ingenuity must be placed at its launch site and put on its feet, a process that will take a few more days.

Once Perseverance gets off the helicopter, he must pull away about five meters within 25 hours so as not to cast a shadow on the ingenuity.

This is the time during which Ingenuity’s batteries will be able to operate a radiator without needing to be recharged via its solar panels.

This part is essential for surviving nighttime temperatures which can dip as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).

If left unheated, the helicopter’s unshielded electrical components freeze and crack, killing the mission before it even begins.

If, however, things go as planned, Perseverance will take up a position remotely to record Ingenuity’s exploits with its own cameras.

Up to five flights of progressive difficulty are scheduled during the month.

The four-pound (1.8 kilogram) rotorcraft cost NASA around $ 85 million to develop and is seen as a proof of concept that could revolutionize space exploration.

Future planes could cover the ground much faster than rovers and explore rougher terrain.

Next up is Dragonfly, a helicopter-lander that will launch in 2026 and land on Saturn’s icy moon Titan in 2034.