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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter survives its first night on Mars alone

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Washington (AFP)

NASA’s Mini Helicopter Ingenuity has survived its first night alone on the cool surface of Mars, the US space agency said, hailing it as “an important milestone” for the small spacecraft as it prepares for its first flight.

The ultralight aircraft was thrown to the surface on Saturday after being released from the stomach of the Perseverance rover that touched the red planet on 1

8 February.

Regardless of endurance, ingenuity had to rely on its own solar-powered battery to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking in the bitter martianate, where temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius). .

Getting through the chilly Mars night was “an important milestone for the small rotor craft,” NASA said in a statement Monday.

“This is the first time that Ingenuity has been alone on the surface of Mars,” said MiMi Aung, ingenuity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“But we have now confirmed that we have the right insulation, the right heaters and enough energy in the battery to survive the cold night, which is a great win for the team. We are happy to continue to prepare ingenuity for its first flight test. “

Over the next few days, Ingenuity will undergo testing of its rotor blades and motors.

If all goes well, Ingenuity is expected to make its first flight attempt no earlier than the evening of April 11, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

It will be the first aircraft to attempt to operate controlled flight on another planet.

– Tribute to the Wright Brothers –

Ingenuity carries a small piece of fabric that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ first plane, which achieved the first motor flight on Earth by Kitty Hawk in 1903 to pay homage to the milestone.

Its experiments will also coincide with the 60th anniversary of the first human spaceflight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, and the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first space shuttle, Columbia, on April 12, 1981.

Ingenuity will try to fly in an atmosphere that is one percent of the Earth’s density, making it harder to reach the lift – but will be helped by gravity, which is a third of our planet.

The first flight involves climbing at a speed of about three meters (one meter) per second. Second to a height of 10 feet (three meters), hovering there for 30 seconds and then down again to the surface.

Ingenuity takes high-resolution photography as it flies from its “airfield” in the Jezero crater.

A series of flights are planned over its mission, lasting 30 March suns (31 Earth days).

“Our 30-solar test plan is frontloaded with exciting milestones,” said Teddy Tzanetos, head of Ingenuity, deputy operations.

“Whatever the future holds, we will acquire all the flight data we can within that time frame.”

The 1.8 kg rotor craft cost NASA about $ 85 million to develop and is considered evidence of a concept that could revolutionize space exploration.

Future aircraft could cover the ground much faster than rovers and explore more rugged terrain.

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