Ingenuity is currently attached to the rover’s belly and its mission is also historic: the 4-pound helicopter will attempt the first powered-controlled flight on another planet.
However, in order to successfully do so, Perseverance will have to take additional steps to prepare before it can embark on the hunt for a safe takeoff site.
Over the next month or two, engineers will test the rover’s systems and instruments before the flight test phase can begin.
NASA announced Friday that they had received their first status report from the helicopter, indicating it is operating as expected.
Ingenuity has a month-long window for up to five test flights, but it won’t be an easy process.
Mars has nights with temperatures as cold as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit and the planet has a rarefied atmosphere that’s just about 1% of the density of Earth’s atmosphere — though the planet’s gravity could give the helicopter a boost.
Once Perseverance locates a site to deploy Ingenuity, the rover’s Mars Helicopter Delivery System will shed the landing cover and gently drop it.
“Percy” will also help NASA communicate with Ingenuity — which will make a lot of its own decisions because of interplanetary communication delays — using programmed parameters set by engineers.
For example, Ingenuity has a thermostat to help it keep warm, as well as the ability to analyze and sensor data and images of the planet’s terrain, like Perseverance’s Terrain Relative Navigation.
According to NASA, a victorious maiden takeoff and hover would meet 90% of the team’s project goals.
“We are in uncharted territory, but this team is used to that,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ingenuity Project Manager MiMi Aung. “Just about every milestone from here through the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each has to succeed for us to go on to the next. We’ll enjoy this good news for the moment, but then we have to get back to work.”
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