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This Mars Helicopter Aims to be First Ever to Fly on Another Planet

On August 14, a scheduled course correction slightly altered the path of Mars 2020 on its journey to the Red Planet. Another correction will come on September 30, which is 62 days after launch. On February 10 and 16, 2021, another pair of corrections will guide the spacecraft to its proper trajectory to Mars. Mission planners hope everything is aligned at that time, but they still have two other chances to fine-tune the course of the spacecraft to guide it toward a safe entry into the atmosphere of Mars on February 17, 2021.

Touchdown is scheduled for February 18, 2021. For the first few weeks, Ingenuity will remained stowed to the Perseverance rover. In spring 2021, the Martian Helicopter will separate from Perseverance, and the rover will drive away.

Five flights are planned for the interplanetary whirlybird. Mars has been examined by flybys and orbiters, studied by landers, and scoured by rovers. Mars (or any planet) has never been examined by an aerial vehicle, soaring through the air surrounding an alien planet.

The significant distance between Earth and Mars prevents ground crew from controlling the interplanetary helicopter directly, due to time delays between the two planets. Therefore, Ingenuity will receive its planned flights well in advance, and will have autonomy to reach its goal safely. Only after the flights will human controllers know what happened during the tests.

“Ingenuity will use solar power to charge its batteries and rely on internal heaters to maintain operational temperatures during the cold Martian nights. After receiving commands from Earth relayed through the rover, each test flight is performed without real-time input from Mars Helicopter mission controllers,” mission engineers explain.

Should these test flights prove successful, the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity will open up a new dimension in the exploration of the atmospheres and landscapes of other worlds.

Read more about the Mars Helicopter