Ingenuity Successfully Takes Flight on Mars

Space Coast, FL – The Mars Helicopter known as Ingenuity made it’s first successful flight today on another planet. It was part of the Mars 2020 mission that launched in July of 2020 by ULA (United Launch Alliance) on an Atlas V.

Mars Helicopter as seen from Mars Rover Perseverance, just prior to flight attempt
Mars Helicopter as seen from Mars Rover Perseverance, just prior to flight attempt | Image: NASA JPL/Perseverance

Dimensions

  • Height: about 19 inches (0.49 meters)
  • Rotor system span: about 4 feet (1.2 meters)

Key Features

  • Weighs 4 pounds (1.8 kg)
  • Solar-powered and recharges on its own
  • Wireless communication system
  • Counter-rotating blades spin about 2,400 rpm
  • Equipped with computers, navigation sensors, and two cameras (one color and one black-and-white)

Ingenuity, a technology demonstration

Ingenuity is what is known as a technology demonstration. This is a project that seeks to test a new capability for the first time with limited scope. This morning at around 0315 EDT (0715 UTC) the Mars Helicopter took flight and landed, successfully.

Ingenuity's navigation cam takes a photo of the Mars Helicopter's shadow during flight
Ingenuity's navigation cam takes a photo of the Mars Helicopter's shadow during flight | Image: NASA JPL/Ingenuity

The helicopter hovered at just over ~3m (9.84 ft) for ~40 seconds. It then landed back onto the Martian surface, completing it's first test flight. This marks 2 very significant milestones. The first time sending and attempting powered flight on another planet, and the first time successfully completing such a task. The difficult part of making flight in the Mars atmosphere is that it is less than 1% as dense as the atmosphere is on Earth.

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) during Ingenuity's hover
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) during Ingenuity's hover | Image: NASA JPL/Perseverance

Ingenuity Milestones Completed

  • Survive launch, cruise to Mars, and landing on the Red Planet.
  • Unlock and unfold from its stowed position underneath the Perseverance rover belly pan.
  • Deploy safely to the Martian surface.
  • Confirm communications with the rover and flight operators on Earth.
  • Keep warm autonomously through the intensely cold Martian night (as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 90 degrees Celsius).
  • Charge autonomously using its solar panel.
  • Confirm the energy and power model over multiple Martian days (monitoring daily power consumption, solar energy, and battery levels).
  • Unlock rotor blades.
  • Spin up rotor blades for the first time on Mars (to a speed below what would be needed for flight) while still on the surface.
  • Spin up rotor blades full-speed for the first time on Mars (to the planned flight speed of ~2400 RPM) while still on the surface.
  • Lift off for the first time in the thin Martian atmosphere.
  • Fly autonomously.
  • Land successfully.

Ingenuity flight video

FUN FACT: A piece of the Wright Brothers first powered flight plane is attached to Ingenuity.

The first successful flight will prompt more test flights with possibly range. If those are successful the Mars Helicopter will be able to go places the Mars Rover can not. We will have to wait and see what comes next after a press briefing today at 1100 EDT (1500 UTC).

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