The Ingenuity helicopter takes to the skies on another planet!4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
There’s a lot of talk about NASA’s Perseverance rover, but not enough about its faithful companion in space. Ingenuity, the helicopter that NASA built to fly on Mars, has officially completed it’s first flight. NASA hopes to make more flights with Ingenuity over the course of Perseverance’s two year mission, but let’s talk about the first flight for now.
While planes have long been existent on our own planet, we have lost out on precious time to fly on other planets. NASA hoped to change that with Ingenuity. But there are many more questions surrounding Ingenuity and its first flight and we’re about to answer them all.
Why’s everyone making a big deal of the Ingenuity copter?
When Ingenuity took off on Mars, it was the first time ever that humans controlled a flight on another planet! With NASA’s Mars program, Artemis, in development, and SpaceX’s Starship already cruising through prototype phases, more such flights will happen soon and with bigger structures.
But in an atmosphere as unfamiliar as Mars, deploying a helicopter, at this point, seemed like the best option. Also, since Ingenuity is flying, it is a lot faster at traversing the Martian landscape. These will be valuable tools for the future crewed Mars missions. NASA is, through all these small wins, working on its goal of landing humans on Mars by 2050.
How much did Ingenuity cost to build and why?
The Ingenuity is no ordinary helicopter, and cost the Mars mission about $80 million to build and an extra $5 million to operate on its first month. On Mars, the atmosphere is almost 100 times thinner than Earth’s and so, the rotors of the helicopter have to spin a lot faster to lift up.
Building this was no easy feat. NASA needed a super powerful motor to spin the rotor blades. And, with solar panels creating the energy, there is only space for a 1.5 minute flight per day. Additionally, a lot of research was put into this project. Humans took almost 40,000 years to realize how to build a plane, and that was just on the Earth! Imagine having to create a similar feat on a planet humans are not familiar with at all!
What does the future look like for flying vehicles on Mars?
Ingenuity is letting us know that we’re not too far behind the day when manned Mars missions could become a reality. One thing NASA has to fix is the left and right manoeuvring. Ingenuity, so far, was only able to generate lift, meaning it would not be suitable for traversing the Martian landscape. But the first and hardest step is done.
Another issue that could arise is the cost of producing these flying vehicles. If the total cost of building a helicopter that can carry weight is more than that of a land vehicle, NASA will probably stick to traversing the terrain by land. Cost could be something that changes the focus of NASA’s transportation system on Mars.
Although NASA has several roadblocks to overcome, it will be interesting to see their decision-making in the near future.