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NASA’s Ingenuity mini-helicopter survived its first night alone on the cool surface of Mars, the U.S. space agency said, hailing it as a “cornerstone” for the small spacecraft as it prepares for its first flight.
The superlight aircraft crashed on Saturday after separating from the belly of the rover Perseverance, which touched the Red Planet on February 1
Detached from perseverance, the ingenuity had to rely on its own solar panel to run a vital heater to protect its unshielded electrical components from freezing and cracking during a bitter Martian night, where temperatures can drop to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).
Passing through the cold Martian night was “an important milestone for the small rotocraft,” a NASA statement said Monday.
“This is the first time ingenuity has been alone on the surface of Mars,” said MiMi Aung, manager of ingenuity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“But now we have confirmation that we have the right insulation, the right heaters and enough energy in the battery to survive the cold night, which is a great victory for the team. We are happy to continue to prepare the ingenuity for our first flight test.”
In the coming days, the ingenuity will be tested on its rotor blades and motors.
If all goes well, the ingenuity is expected to make its first flight attempt no earlier than the evening of April 11, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
This will be the first aircraft to attempt a controlled flight to another planet.
– A bow to the Wright brothers –
Ingenuity wears a small piece of cloth that covers one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ first plane, which made its first flight to Earth at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to pay homage to a cornerstone.
His experience will also coincide with the 60th anniversary of the first manned space flight by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, and the 40th anniversary of the launch of the first space shuttle, Colombia, on April 12, 1981.
Ingenuity will try to fly in an atmosphere that is one percent of the density of the earth, which makes it difficult to achieve lift, but will be aided by gravity, which is one-third that of our planet.
The first flight will involve climbing at a speed of about three feet (one meter) per second to a height of 10 feet (three meters), staying there for 30 seconds, and then descending back to the surface.
Ingenuity will take high-resolution photos as it flies from its “airport” to Jezero Crater.
During his mission, a series of flights of 30 Martian soles (31 Earth days) are planned.
“Our 30-sol test schedule is full of exciting stages,” said Teddy Tsanetos, deputy director of ingenuity.
“Whatever the future holds, we will receive all the flight data we can, within that period.”
The four-kilogram (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft costs NASA about $ 85 million to develop and is considered evidence of a concept that could revolutionize space exploration.
Future aircraft could cover the ground much faster than rovers and explore more rugged terrain.
© 2021 AFP