Ingenuity could pave the way for extensive exploration of the Martian skies. NASA’s Perseverance rover will have a special passenger when it alights inside Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021 — the first helicopter ever to fly on another world. The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper, named Ingenuity, will ride to Mars on Perseverance’s belly, squeezing into a spot that offers roughly 24 inches (61 centimetres) of ground clearance, including the helicopter delivery system. Ingenuity itself is only 5 inches (12 cm) shorter than the clearance area.
“That is not a lot of room to play with,” Chris Salvo, the helicopter interface lead of Mars 2020, the official name of Perseverance’s mission, said in a statement. “But we found if you attach the helicopter horizontally, there is enough to get the job done,” said Salvo, who’s based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Ingenuity will continue clinging to Perseverance for about two months after the rover’s landing on Feb. 18, 2021. The two machines (with help from remote operators on Earth) will hunt for a flat, unobstructed area where Ingenuity can do test operations. The team will need to find a zone that is about 33 feet by 33 feet (10 by 10 metres) that Perseverance can monitor while parked about one American football field away, mission team members said. Ingenuity’s deployment will happen after Perseverance drives into the centre of the airfield. Operators will spend about six Earth days checking all systems before getting the helicopter ready to fly.