Ingenuity: An Engineering Marvel
By Elyas Layachi
Volume 1 Issue 7
April 22, 2021
Image provided by NASA
On Thursday, February 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover touched down on the Martian surface. Its primary goal includes studying the Martian soil and hunting for signs of ancient or current life (see article in ARCHIVES: Issue 6 for more information). However, Perseverance has another job. It was the primary transport vehicle for Ingenuity, a Martian helicopter experiment. The results from this experiment, if successful, will significantly impact future exploration of the Martian surface.
Ingenuity is equipped to deal with a host of hostile conditions on Mars. For starters, the Martian atmosphere is only 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere at the surface, meaning it will take more power and lighter weight for an aircraft to lift off in the Martian atmosphere. Secondly, during the Martian daytime, the planet’s surface receives only half the amount of solar energy that Earth receives during its day, which means that Ingenuity’s solar panels and battery must be as efficient as possible. Third, the nighttime temperatures on Mars can drop as low as minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit, freezing and cracking unprotected electrical components. This means that Ingenuity must also have proper protection for its parts, or else it will malfunction.
As stated previously, Ingenuity is a Martian helicopter/drone. It was carefully sterilized on Earth to avoid contaminating Mars with microbes, and it dropped its protective debris shield on Mars on March 21st, preparing for its first flight. It is, according to NASA, the “first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.” Its flight will be the first time an aircraft will attempt to fly through another world’s atmosphere. After deploying its protective shield, it will take the helicopter another six days to prepare for its deployment.
For its first test flight, Ingenuity will power up, run its rotors at 2,537 rotations per minute, lift-off, climb at a rate of 3 feet per second, and hover at 10 feet above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Images, video, and possibly audio footage will be taken off the flight by Perseverance’s cameras and microphones, and they will be relayed to Earth soon after.
If the mission proves successful, it will hail a potential new generation of Martian explorers that can scout ahead of rovers and even humans in the decades to come to make surface exploration easier. Additionally, if successful, drones or helicopters could explore even more distant worlds, such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Now, it is safe to say that the Earth’s sky is no longer the limit.