NASA has delayed the first flight of a small helicopter to Mars for several days due to a technical problem that arose while testing its helicopter, NASA said on Saturday.
The creativity flight, which will be the first drone flight to another planet, was scheduled for Sunday but is now suspended until at least April 14.
A high-speed test of the rotors of the 1.8 kg helicopter ended earlier than expected due to a potential trouble alert. By rotating these elements, these elements keep the helicopter flying.
“The helicopter team is looking at telemetry to diagnose and understand the problem,” NASA said in a statement. “After that, they will reprogram the test at full speed.”
NASA said the helicopter was “safe and sound” and sent the information back to Earth.
Initially, Sunday’s plan was to launch Ingenuity in place for 30 seconds to take a photo of the Perseeerance Rover, which landed on Mars on February 18th with the helicopter strapped to its underside.
NASA describes this unprecedented process as extremely risky, but says it may allow the gathering of invaluable data on life conditions on Mars.
The flight is a real challenge, because the density of Mars’ air is equivalent to only 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. However, by blowing air as it rotates, the fans can lift the weight.
This means that creativity has to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on the ground to fly.
After the flight, the helicopter will transmit technical data to the vehicle about what it has achieved, which in turn will be sent to Earth. Among these early data, there will be a black and white image of the Earth captured by Ingenuity right below it when it is in the air.
The next day, once its batteries are recharged, the helicopter will send a color image of the horizon, captured by its other camera.
But the most spectacular photos should come from the perseverance wagon, placed for observation several meters away, that should depict the flight.
If successful, the second flight may take place after four days at most. Up to five flights are planned in total, the difficulty increases.
NASA would like to be able to lift the helicopter up to 5 meters and then try to move it sideways.
The process on Mars will be analogous to the first robotic flight on Earth, in 1903, by the Wright brothers. A piece of fabric from this plane that took off more than a century ago in North Carolina, USA, was placed on board Ingenuity.
Whatever happens, after a month or less, the creativity experiment will stop, leaving the industrious rover to dedicate itself to its main mission: to search for traces of ancient life on Mars.