NASA’s Mars helicopter, named Ingenuity, successfully powered up for the first time in space last week.
Ingenuity is the first helicopter designed to fly on another planet. It is currently travelling to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which launched on July 30.
On Aug. 7, the helicopter’s six lithium-ion batteries were powered up and charged for the first time in space. The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity, which is currently stowed beneath Perseverance’s belly, receives its charge from the rover’s power supply, according to a Thursday (Aug. 13) statement from NASA.
This was a big milestone, as it was our first opportunity to turn on Ingenuity and give its electronics a ‘test drive’ since we launched on July 30,” Tim Canham, the operations lead for Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, said in the statement. “Since everything went by the book, we’ll perform the same activity about every two weeks to maintain an acceptable state of charge.”
Charging the batteries took eight hours, during which NASA tested and analyzed their performance. The batteries were charged only to 35% of their maximum level, in order to maintain optimal battery health, according to the statement.
Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. At some point after that, Ingenuity will detach from the rover, descend to the Red Planet surface and take a few pioneering test flights. (After deployment on Mars, the helicopter’s batteries will be charged by its own solar panel.)
If the experimental test flights go according to plan, Ingenuity will prove that robotic flight is possible on Mars, opening the door for extensive aerial exploration on future missions.
“This charge activity shows we have survived launch and that so far we can handle the harsh environment of interplanetary space,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL, said in the statement. “We have a lot more firsts to go before we can attempt the first experimental flight test on another planet, but right now we are all feeling very good about the future.”