After weeks of waiting, NASA has set a Sunday date for the first helicopter in another world to take off and search for alien life on Mars.
The helicopter’s ingenuity unfolded during Perseverance Rover last week, and now NASA is ready to see the helicopter take off – if they do, it marks the first man-made flight to take place on another planet.
Endurance rover landed on Mars in February. Since it touched, the Mars rover has begun exploring its new home in the Jezero Crater, an old lake shore where conditions may once have been right for life to flourish under the narrow window where the red planet was a lush and watery world billionaire years ago. Endurance rover is the overall action, but Ingenuity̵
Here’s all you need to know about Ingenuity’s mission to Mars and how to watch on Sunday as the helicopter takes flight over the red planet’s dusty surface in search of signs of alien life.
When does the Mars Ingenuity helicopter fly?
An exact flight time is still up in the air, a NASA spokesman said Vise versa. But at the time of writing, the helicopter is expected to fly on Mars on Sunday, April 11 – if all goes well. (The earlier flight date “not earlier than April 8” was moved by NASA-JPL, which probably gives more time to prepare for the first flight.)
NASA will hold a livestream on Monday, April 12 at. 3:30 east to confirm if the flight started and it was a success. The livestream is likely to happen shortly after its first liftoff, so Ingenuity monitors may be staying a little later than usual this weekend.
NASA will also hold a press conference on Monday morning at 11 east. The proximity to this fast-paced date makes every little glimpse of the helicopter on Mars all the more tempting for terrestrial fans.
Given the great difficulty of pulling a flight on another planet, the conditions must be equal for the vessel to be able to fly. It has a paired payload to make its job a little easier. Unlike the rover’s scientific cargo, the helicopter carries only a camera and some navigation equipment on board. This comes down to Ingenuity’s core mission: it’s primarily a technology demonstration to prove that motor flying can work in other worlds.
In a nod to the story that led us to this point, the Mars helicopter carries a small piece of scrap metal from the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Airplane on board. In other words, a piece of the first powered flight on Earth will fly again during the first powered flight on another planet, more than a century later.
READ MORE PERSEVERANCE ROVER NEWS FROM INVERSE
How long will Ingenuity fly on Mars?
The invention’s first flight to Mars is likely to last only 20-30 seconds, according to NASA. The vessel is expected to lift only a few meters from the ground. In essence, NASA’s higher ambitions rest on successfully completing these first flights. After it launches for the first time, the Ingenuity team will fly again and again for the next 30 days and take increasingly ambitious journeys through the Martian sky.
“Thereafter, the team will attempt additional experimental flights at incrementally longer distances and greater altitudes,” the agency said in a press release.
“Once the helicopter has completed its technology demonstration, endurance continues its scientific mission.”
Mars’ atmosphere has about 1 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. This means that there is no guarantee that Ingenuity will handle its first flight – let alone any subsequent flights. In fact, NASA celebrated the solar-powered helicopter that managed to survive an entire night on Mars.
To see the Mars helicopter Ingenuity fly:
Unfortunately for Ingenuity fans, there will be no live video to watch on the flight while it takes place, but there may be a recording available in the following days and weeks thanks to Perseverance’s unique capabilities.
Endurance has the ability to take video – the first Mars rover to have this skill. But the rover can only send 2 megabits per second back to earth. At that speed, it means there will be no live stream available from the surface of Mars of Ingenuity’s first flight. The rover itself runs at 110 watts, so faster transfers are too power-intensive to perform without endangering the rover.
In a recent interview, Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s deputy operations manager, said there will be some data available shortly after Ingenuity’s first flight to Mars, including some introductory photos.
“You can follow us when we downlink telemetry and later some images, but it will not be live,” he says in the video interview.
Tzanetos also reveals that the rover will take pictures of the helicopter, which means we will be able to see the flight (and hopefully later flights) from multiple perspectives.
Pictures from the rover are available on NASA’s website, and any available video of the first flight will eventually be uploaded there as well.
What happens after the Mars helicopter Ingenuity flight?
After the 30-day test flights, the Perseverance rover continues on its mission in the Jezero Crater, looking for evidence of past life on Mars. NASA’s press conference on Monday is also likely to offer more details. It marks the end of the mission’s part of the mission.
The Ingenuity team will be able to use data taken from the mission to inform future flights – whether on Mars, the upper layers of the atmosphere Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan, which has lakes and streams of liquid hydrocarbons that band over the surface. NASA wants to send a drone there in 2027.