Space

NASA’s Mars rover drops off Ingenuity helicopter ahead of historic flight

NASA’s Perseverance rover released the Ingenuity helicopter onto the surface of Mars Saturday, leaving behind the experimental flying drone to survive on its own power until attempting a historic hop in the Red Planet’s thin carbon dioxide atmosphere.

The milestone kicks off a week of checkouts and testing before NASA commits to the $80 million Ingenuity helicopter’s first test flight, currently targeted for April 11.

NASA officials confirmed rover deposited the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter on the ground Saturday. Imagery from one of the Perseverance rover’s hazar cameras showed Ingenuity standing upright on the planet’s surface.

Now that Ingenuity is separated from Perseverance, it will need to power and heat itself. Ingenuity will draw power from the sun using its onboard solar panels, but its heater will have the tough job of keeping the helicopter warm through the freezing cold nights on Mars, where temperatures can go as low as negative 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer.

Presuming Ingenuity survives the harsh conditions, the helicopter will aim to take the first powered flight on another planet, which is currently set for “no earlier” than April 11th. NASA outlined the helicopter’s flight zone, which NASA outlined on March 23rd. The plan is for Ingenuity to attempt as many as five test flights within 30 days before settling down on the surface of Mars for eternity.

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