New York (The Verge) — A stowaway helicopter on NASA’s Mars rover will attempt the first flight on another world theverge.com/2020/7/29/2133….
When NASA launches its next Mars rover, Perseverance, on July 30th, the spacecraft will carry a tiny helicopter called Ingenuity to the Red Planet. Once on the surface, the helicopter will attempt the first controlled flight on another world.
The helicopter, named Ingenuity, is not the main focus of the rover. Perseverance’s biggest goal is to look for signs of life on Mars and dig up samples of dirt that could one day be returned to Earth for study. But engineers managed to find room under the rover’s belly to stow the tiny helicopter. At some point during Perseverance’s journey, the rover will deploy Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars, where it will spin up its rotor and attempt to take off.
This interplanetary experiment hopes to provide a new vantage point for exploring Mars, beyond the current — limited — options. Mars orbiters can’t get the high-resolution imagery that a spacecraft can get near the ground. Landers can only get information from a fixed location, while rovers can only move so far, with limited information about what lies ahead. But a helicopter can act as a scout, doing reconnaissance for other spacecraft or reaching hard to access areas.
At the end of the day, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, which is why its flights are meant to be short and straightforward. But it could prove that flying machines can be valuable for future missions to Mars. Engineers are already working on designs for larger helicopters that weigh up to 44 pounds or 20 kilograms. Larger copters could carry much more significant science payloads and nicer cameras than what Ingenuity has now. — Loren Grush/@verge