NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has touched down on the surface of the Red Planet after being dropped by its mother ship, the Perseverance rover.
This was made known on Saturday as the helicopter’s first flight is just over a week away.
“#MarsHelicopter touchdown confirmed! Its 293 million mile (471 million km) journey aboard @NASAPersevere ended with the final drop of 4 inches (10 cm) from the rover’s belly to the surface of Mars today,” officials with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California wrote in a Twitter announcement.
“Next milestone? Survive the night.”
Weighing about 4 lbs. (1.8 kilograms), Ingenuity is a tiny, solar-powered helicopter that relies on a rechargeable battery to keep its systems warm during the harsh Martian night.
Until today, Ingenuity has been attached to Perseverance’s belly, feeding off the rover’s nuclear-powered system to stay warm.
“This heater keeps the interior at about 45 degrees F through the bitter cold of the Martian night, where temperatures can drop to as low as -130 F (minus 90 degrees Celsius),” NASA’s Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the Mars Helicopter project, wrote in a status update Friday (April 2).
“That comfortably protects key components such as the battery and some of the sensitive electronics from harm at very cold temperatures.” he added
NASA officials have also disclosed that Ingenuity is expected to make its first flight on April 11, with the data from that test reaching Earth on April 12.
The $85 million drone is the first helicopter ever sent to another world and is designed to test technologies for future flying vehicles on other planets.
Ingenuity carries two cameras to document its flights, which will also be observed by the Perseverance rover.
“The Ingenuity team will be anxiously waiting to hear from the helicopter the next day,” Balaram wrote Friday.
“Did it make it through the night? Is the solar panel working as expected?”
The system — from the performance of its rotors in rarified air to its solar panels, electrical heaters, and other components — has been tested and retested in the vacuum chambers and test labs of NASA’s JPL in Southern California.