NASA’s Mars helicopter survived its first night standing, alone, on Mars, and is more than just the parental anxiety that has made engineers on Earth anxious about creativity. Deployed from the bottom of the persistent rover on Sunday, the helicopter may not have made its first flight yet, but even just arriving this morning unharmed is an achievement.
That’s because the extreme temperatures on Mars can be huge, and aren’t particularly suited to electronics. In Jezero Crater, for example, where perseverance has landed, it can drop to -130 F (-90 C) in the evening. At these levels, electrical components can break loose and then crack
Meanwhile, Ingenuity batteries were also a concern. As anyone who has lived with an EV in a harsh winter knows, cold conditions and battery capacity are not friends. Ingenuity’s batteries and electronics have been protected, but it remains to be seen whether everything done by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team managing the Perseverance project will suffice.
Fortunately, the morning dawned, and creativity seemed to have escaped unscathed. “This is the first time Ingenuity has been alone on Mars,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Project Manager at JPL He explains. “But we now have confirmation that we have the right insulation, proper heaters, and enough power in its battery to survive the cold night, which is a huge win for the team. We are excited to continue preparing Ingenuity for its first flight test.”
Not only did it require specialized hardware, it required an intelligent use to maximize what was available on Mars. Chopper heaters, for example, are battery powered of course, which meant that once they spread the creativity, the persistence needed to be put back quickly so as not to clog the helicopter’s solar panels. However, it could not go far, as it is following the helicopter for messages back to Earth.
It’s actually been used, even on Earth, to share some local hues about creativity. A camera mounted below, for example, showed the surface of Mars it sits on. Ultimately, it will open its rotor blades – which NASA expects to happen in the middle of this week – and then Ingenuity will go through numerous engine tests and electronics checks.
The current goal is for the helicopter to take off as soon as 11 April. Hopefully, this is the first of several flights during the so-called “Innovation Month,” as the small plane becomes the first example of a powered flight on the plane of a different planet. Although no specific science endeavors are planned, impressive photos will be sent out to show how the entire adventure is going.