NASA’s latest mission to Mars launched early on Thursday 30 July, sending the Perseverance rover to continue the exploration of the Red Planet, much like its predecessors, Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity.
Perseverance is a one tonne, six-wheeled robot rover, equipped with the latest technology to try and find if life ever existed on Mars, reports the BBC. However, this time, Perseverance is taking a little friend along, the first autonomous helicopter drone to fly on Mars.
The helicopter, known as Ingenuity, will be conducting its own experiment, can a drone fly on Mars. Ingenuity has been specially built for Mars, which while has less gravity than Earth, it also has a much thinner atmosphere, which could make flight quite a challenge.
The helicopter blades of Ingenuity can make over 2,000 revolutions a minute, several times the speed of helicopter blades whipping around in Earth’s atmosphere, and the aircraft is incredibly light, weighing just over 1.8kg.
The tiny drone is autonomous, deciding its own journey around the red planet, but the autonomy is not just for navigation, it’s also to help keep Ingenuity alive during the extremely cold nights on Mars. The on-board computer will help find ways for it to keep warm until the sun comes up again.
If the Ingenuity’s mission is successful, it will help guide NASA make choices about how flying drones can help in future missions to the planet. Similar drones could survey the act as scouts and survey the terrain, in particular, to places where its wheeled siblings cannot easily get, or as NASA hopes, become “full standalone science craft carrying instrument payloads.”
Perseverance and Ingenuity are due to reach Mars in February next year, and we can’t wait to see how it fares. Fun fact: Mars is the only known planet entirely populated by robots!
If you want to explore your own planet from the air, buy quadcopter drones here in the UK in our store!