How to watch Nasa’s Mars helicopter take its first flight

‘Ingenuity’ to take off from Martian surface in science first

Nasa has delayed the first flight of its Mars helicopter after a possible tech issue emerged while testing its rotors, the US space agency said on Saturday.

Ingenuity's trip, which is to be the first-ever powered, controlled flight on another planet, was planned for Sunday but is now on hold until at least April 14.

A high-speed test of the helicopter's rotors on Friday ended earlier than expected due to an alert of a potential issue.

"The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue," Nasa said in a statement. "Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test."

Nasa noted the vehicle is "safe and healthy" and had sent information back to Earth.

The US space agency plans to broadcast the flight on its YouTube channel.

The Perseverance rover, which placed the helicopter on the Martian surface earlier this week, has been positioned to be able to capture images of the flight.

Because of the vast distances involved and the energy required to broadcast from Mars, any pictures or video captured with the rover’s cameras are unlikely to reach Earth until well after the flight.

In a similar fashion to the Perseverance landing, the broadcast will instead rely on telemetry from the helicopter and analysis by JPL’s scientists and engineers.

Nasa said Ingenuity’s first flight might last only 20 or 30 seconds.

The US space agency plans to carry out increasingly ambitious flights on Mars, however, using the helicopter’s solar panel to recharge its batteries between hops.

Nasa hopes the flights will help gather vital data for future human exploration of Mars.

Ingenuity was designed to fly in the red planet’s thin atmosphere, which is less than 1 per cent as dense as that of Earth.

Its carbon fibre rotor blades should allow it to make short flights to an altitude of about five metres.

In a significant milestone for the project, the helicopter survived its first night on the freezing Martian surface, where temperatures can plunge as low as -90°C.

Heating and insulation protected the delicate electronics inside the body of the helicopter.

In a tribute to earlier aviation pioneers, Ingenuity is carrying a small piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer, the first aircraft to fly under its own power on Earth, which was designed and built by brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903.

Updated: April 11, 2021 08:09 PM

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