NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter (NASA photo)
Takeoff will not be trivial: on the surface of Mars the atmosphere is only 1/100 denser than the Earth’s but the lesser gravity – a third of ours. Getting up in flight on the Red Planet is equivalent to doing it from an altitude of 100,000 feet on Earth. No terrestrial helicopter has ever flown so high, and represents more than double the altitude at which jets normally fly. To facilitate the operation, the rotor of the Mars Helicopter will turn much faster, ensuring effective ascension. It will run on solar energy and can operate for a maximum of 90 seconds a day at hundreds of meters high, with a total autonomy of about 1 month. In addition, a ‘swarm’ of these drones, scattered everywhere on Mars, could be made tomorrow, so that geological and meteorological data could be collected over a vast region.
In the past on Mars there were rivers as big as the Po. “Existed 3.7 billion years ago”
If it works, the small helicopter, called Ingenuity, will open a new path for future robotic explorers who will have a bird’s eye view of Mars and other worlds of the solar system.
“It would be a historic feat, comparable to the Wright brothers’ first flight, but on another planet,” he said MiMi Aung, responsible for the helicopter project on Mars at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the past six years.The helicopter will take a ride on the red planet with Perseverance, a robot rover destined for the Mars 2020 mission which, like its predecessor Curiosity, will have to search for traces of life on the Martian soil and send data to analyze to study the Red Planet. The mission is scheduled for July 20 and will be the fifth time for a robot sent to Mars by NASA.
Perseverance, the new NASA rover for Mars. The name chosen by a boy
During a press conference last week on the Perseverance mission, Jim Bridenstine he underlined its genius. “The thing that thrilled me most as a NASA administrator is getting ready to watch a helicopter fly to another world,” he said.
Until 1997, spacecraft sent to the surface of Mars were stationary. But in 1997, the Pathfinder mission included a revolutionary innovation: a robot on wheels that allowed, with its freedom of movement, to be guided on the surface to observe the landscape with the possibility of stopping to observe the rocks up close. And this was precisely the key to get to what we know today about the Planet, which now cold and dry, once had water and possessed environments potentially suitable for human life.
After the success of Sojourner, as it was called, with rather small dimensions, two much larger rovers followed, Spirit and Opportunity, which arrived on Mars in 2004 and then on Curiosity, the size of a car, in the 2012.