The launch of NASA's next Mars Rover Perseverance is gradually approaching. The highly anticipated mars exploration programme is scheduled to start next month. In addition to the launch of the rover, the space agency is set to fly a helicopter over the surface of the red planet.
The US' space agency will attempt to launch the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Earth along with the rover as apart of their next Mars mission on Wednesday, July 22. As per NASA's news release, the helicopter will travel with the Perseverance rover through 314 million miles (505 million kilometers) of interplanetary space to reach our neighbouring planet. If in the first attempt the rover is launched successfully, the landing for both the rover and helicopter is expected to take place on Feb 18, 2021.
This is when the helicopter will undergo the most critical process of its journey to the Martian surface. Upon landing, the final 5-inch journey from the rover to the Martian surface is the "most challenging of all." For this, the scientists have developed what is described as the "ingenious" Mars Helicopter Delivery System.
"Ingenuity is unlike any other helicopter ever built because powered controlled flight at Mars is unlike anything ever attempted," said MiMi Aung, project manager of the Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "And then we had to figure out how to hitch a ride and safely get deployed from the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover."
It is said that after much research the NASA scientists have decided to attach the 49 centimetre tall Ingenuity on Perseverance's belly which provides 26-inch ground clearance to stow away.
"That is not a lot of room to play with," said Chris Salvo, the helicopter interface lead of the Mars 2020 mission at JPL, "but we found if you attach the helicopter horizontally, there is enough to get the job done."
However, the deployment could take two months after Perseverance lands on the Martian surface as the home team will be on a lookout for suitable airfield which must be a 10-by-10 meter flat and obstruction-free surface. The airfield for Ingenuity must be viewable by Perseverance even at a distance. All of it will take place on 60th Martian day or sol, of the mission. Once the mission controllers are satisfied, they will command the delivery system to release and drop Ingenuity to cover those last 5 inches.
Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a robotic helicopter designed as an "experimental flight test of new technology." If it proves to be successful, NASA could deploy second-generation helicopters to accompany future Mars mission "adding an aerial dimension to their explorations."
"Ingenuity needs Perseverance," said Aung. "The Mars Helicopter Delivery System is an ingenious gizmo and just one of the examples of how the Mars 2020 mission has worked above and beyond the call to accommodate our test project. Along with it and the helicopter, they had to incorporate an electronic base station and antenna dedicated entirely to helicopter operations into the rover. Our teams had to work closely together to make this complex system work. When Ingenuity flies, it will be an achievement we can all share."