The March 2020 mission involves several challenges. The first is to deploy the Perseverance rover, which is scheduled to arrive this Thursday on Mars. Less publicized, another challenge is brewing however: that of flying a drone.
The aircraft is called Ingenuity and was designed to successfully take off in extremely light air, since the density is only 1% that of the Earth’s atmosphere. It was therefore necessary to make it as light as possible: it weighs only 1.8 kg. The propellers will spin at a speed of 2,400 rpm (revolutions per minute), which is about five times faster than a standard helicopter.
Ingenuity is equipped with solar panels to recharge its batteries, much of the energy being used for warming up (it is -90 ° C at night on Mars). It can also take photos and videos. Up to five flights of gradual difficulty are planned.
It can rise up to 5 meters in height, and move up to 300 meters. Each flight can last up to a minute and a half. Because of the transmission delay of about twenty minutes between Earth and Mars, no joystick to control it. It will evolve autonomously: commands will be sent but it will then have to fend for itself thanks to a series of sensors helping it to navigate. The results will be received long after their outcome.
No scientific objective
This experiment is a demonstration mission: it has no scientific objective, except to prove that it is possible to fly on Mars. In the future, such machines could “Usher in a whole new era of exploration of Mars”, enthused Bob Balaram, chief engineer of the project. By going, for example, where rovers cannot go. We can also imagine that they would go to look for, then bring back to a base, samples deposited by previous missions. Like, for example, the samples that Perseverance must start collecting, in the next phase of the Mars mission.
The drone was placed under the belly of the Perseverance rover, the main mission vehicle. Once on Mars, it will be dropped on the ground, and the rover will roll over it to get away from it.