The first helicopter ever sent to another world is doing just fine on Mars after surviving a “seven minutes of terror” landing aboard NASA’s Perseverance.
The Ingenuity helicopter, which landed on Mars with Perseverance on Thursday (Feb. 18), is awake and communicating with controllers on Earth.
Controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) received a downlink on Friday at 6:30 p.m. EST (2330 GMT) through the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, indicating the 4-lb. (2 kilograms) helicopter and its base station are both operating normally.
Ingenuity, the small helicopter that accompanies the Perseverance rover to the surface of Mars, has sent its first status report to NASA’s control center. The report was received Friday (California time) at the center in Pasadena.
Everything seems to be working properly, reacted project director Tim Canham, quoted in a NASA press release. Ingenuity, which actually looks more like a large drone, is currently attached under the Perseverance rover. But within 30 to 60 days, it should start to make reconnaissance flights. Up to five flights, of gradual difficulty, are planned, over a one-month window. The rover can reach heights of up to 5 meters and travel up to 300 meters.
Each flight can last up to a minute and a half. Ingenuity is equipped with solar panels to recharge its batteries, a large part of the energy being used to warm up (it is -90°C at night on Mars). It can also take photos and videos. The Perseverance rover managed to land on the Red Planet on Thursday after a seven-month, 480-million-kilometer journey. Perseverance, which lies in the Jezero Crater, which scientists believe contained a lake 3.5 billion years ago, is only the fifth rover to set foot on Mars. Since the first one, in 1997, they have all been American, and one of them, Curiosity, is still active elsewhere on the Red Planet. The first rock sampling by Perseverance should start this summer. The sealed tubes will then have to be brought back to Earth by a future mission, in the 2030s, for analysis.