Mars helicopter Ingenuity unlocks its rotor blades to prepare for 1st flight on Red Planet
Update for April 10: NASA has delayed the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars until no earlier than Wednesday (April 14) after a final preflight test ended early.
The Mars helicopter Ingenuity has unlocked its two rotor blades as preparations continue for the vehicle’s first flight, due to occur no earlier than Sunday (April 11).
Ingenuity arrived on Mars Feb. 18 along with NASA’s Perseverance rover, having made the long trek out to the Red Planet tucked inside the rover’s belly. As of April 4, the little chopper has parted ways with Perseverance, preparing to take to the skies during a month-long test campaign. If Ingenuity’s Sunday sortie is successful, it will be the first powered, guided flight on another planet.
“The blades of glory, aka rotor blades of the #MarsHelicopter, have been unlocked and are ready for testing,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California wrote in a tweet posted early today (April 8). “Next, we’ll do a slow-speed spin-up of the blades for the first time on the Martian surface.”
A series of images show the Ingenuity helicopter’s blades moving after being unlocked. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)
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Ingenuity’s flight preparation process has been slow and cautious, in part because the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) helicopter made the journey to Mars in a folded configuration, tucked behind a protective shield.
After the rover dropped that shield and drove to the airfield, the helicopter’s personnel had to order the device to unpack and slowly unfold itself. Then Perseverance had to set Ingenuity directly on the Martian surface and drive away, allowing the helicopter’s solar panels to begin supporting the aircraft.
Blades on the Ingenuity Mars helicopter during the unlocking process, as seen on Apr. 8, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)
Unlocking and testing Ingenuity’s blades mark the last major milestones before the helicopter attempts to fly. NASA officials have said they will test the blades first at 50 and then at 2,400 revolutions per minute before the helicopter attempts to fly.
Meanwhile, as Ingenuity makes its flight preparations, Perseverance is checking out the scenery and continuing to settle in on the Red Planet. Among other activities, the car-sized rover has been snapping photos of its own tire tracks and its sophisticated science arm.
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