NASA delayed the first flight of its mini-helicopter on Mars for at least a few days after a potential technical problem arose while testing its rotors, the US space agency said on Saturday.
Ingenuity’s voyage, which is said to be the first powered, controlled flight to another planet, was scheduled for Sunday, but will now be suspended until at least April 14th.
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A high-speed test of the 1.8-kilogram helicopter rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected as a potential problem was highlighted.
“The helicopter team is checking telemetry to diagnose and understand the problem,” NASA said in a statement. “After that, they’ll postpone the test at full speed.”
NASA determined that the helicopter is “safe and sound” and has sent information back to Earth.
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On Sunday, Ingenuity was originally scheduled to fly for 30 seconds to snap a photo of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars on February 18 with the underside-mounted helicopter.
NASA describes the unprecedented helicopter operation as very risky, but says it could harvest invaluable data on conditions on Mars.
The flight is a real challenge because the air on Mars is so thin – less than one percent of the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere.
This means that Ingenuity has to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter on Earth in order to fly.
After the flight, Ingenuity Perseverance sends technical data about what it did and that information is sent back to Earth.
This includes a black and white photo of the surface of Mars that Ingenuity programmed to snap into place when it flies.
One day later, after the batteries have recharged, Ingenuity is scheduled to transmit another color photo of the Mars horizon that was taken with another camera.
If the flight is successful, NASA plans another four days later at the latest. A total of up to five are planned over the course of a month, each of which becomes more difficult.
NASA hopes to raise the helicopter five meters and then move sideways.
The mission corresponds to the first powered flight on Earth on Mars – 1903 by the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of cloth from this airplane was stowed in Ingenuity in honor of this feat.