Ingenuity Helicopter Flies and Lands!

by | Apr 23, 2021 | Daily Space, Mars, Rovers/Landers, Spacecraft | 0 comments

IMAGE: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this shot while hovering over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While not exactly a rocket launch, there is one final event we need to mention. On April 19 at 07:34 UTC, NASA’s Mars Helicopter Ingenuity successfully performed the first-ever powered flight from the surface of another planet. It was a relatively short flight, going to only three meters above the surface and having a flight time of just over 39 seconds, but it made history.

The flight was completely autonomous because the light speed time delay between Earth and Mars prevents any attempt at the real-time flying of anything. It was made even more challenging by Mars’ very thin atmosphere. So thin, in fact, that it was as though the two 1.2 meter rotors were at the equivalent of 35,000 meters altitude on the Earth.

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration so expectations were very low. The little helicopter demonstrated many COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) components mainly from smartphones. This includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor, which is now the fastest processor landed on another planet, with a 2.45 GHz clock speed, compared to the glacial 200 MHz clock speed of the RAD 750 processor on both the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. 

Another COTS component is a Garmin LIDAR-Lite v3 laser altimeter. This component comes from a commercial golf rangefinder, among other products. It tells the vehicle how high off the ground it is by measuring how quickly the reflections from a laser pulse hitting the ground are returned to a sensor.

Up to four more flights of Ingenuity are planned in the coming months, with more ambitious goals than this first flight.

More Information

NASA press release

Flight video

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