Mars: NASA helicopter can fly longer

Initially, his mission should be over after 30 days. But the mini helicopter “Ingenuity” is expected to float around Mars for much longer than initially planned. The US space agency NASA initially extended the mission by 30 days. “After this 30-day period, we’ll take a look at where we stand,” said NASA manager Lori Glaze at a press conference. “There is an option to go beyond that.” How long also depends on how well the technology and power supply of the helicopter can hold out.

One on Thursday next failed fourth attempt to start of the helicopter was successfully made up on Friday. The helicopter had traveled further and faster than on the previous flights and took additional photos, Nasa said. The next flight is planned in about a week.

On April 19, “Ingenuity” took off for the first time – making it the first aircraft to fly on another planet. After that, he had made two more flights – further and faster than before. During the fourth attempt at take-off on Thursday, the helicopter, powered by lithium-ion batteries and weighing around 1.8 kilograms, did not lift off the ground as planned. Not from initially clearly identified causes did not switch »Ingenuity« to flight mode, which is a requirement for take off. The NASA engineers were already aware of the problem from previous tests.

Except for this problem, for which several possible solutions and bridges are currently being worked on, the helicopter has so far been working properly, said NASA engineer Bob Balaram. “’Ingenuity’ surprised us, everything was so perfect,” said project manager MiMi Aung. NASA manager Thomas Zurbuchen spoke of a resounding success of the mission.

Extreme temperatures, thin atmosphere

The helicopter has to defy extreme conditions on Mars: At night, temperatures drop to minus 90 degrees Celsius, which is a challenge for batteries and electronics. Because of the thin atmosphere, which is roughly only one percent as dense as the one on earth, the “Ingenuity” rotors have to accelerate to 2537 revolutions per minute – many times what helicopters can achieve on earth. “Ingenuity” draws the energy for this exertion from its battery, which is fed by sun rays.

The mini-helicopter was put on board the NASA rover “Perseverance” (endurance) at the end of February – after 203 days of flight and 472 million kilometers traveled – with a risky maneuver in a dry Martian lake called “Jezero Crater”. The development and construction of the approximately 2.5 billion dollar (about 2.2 billion euros) rover had taken eight years. He is supposed to search for traces of previous microbial life on Mars and to research the climate and geology of the planet.

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