Ingenuity, the mini-helicopter attached to NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, has sent its first status report to the U.S. space agency’s control centre in Pasadena, California.
The helicopter appears to function correctly, project director Tim Canham is quoted as saying in a NASA press release.
Ingenuity, which looks more like a large drone than a helicopter, is currently attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, but in 30 to 60 days, it should start going on reconnaissance flights. Up to five flights are planned within a one-month window.
Ingenuity can fly at a height of up to five metres over a maximum distance of 300 metres. Each flight can last up to one minute and a half. The mini-helicopter has solar panels for recharging its batteries, and a big chunk of this energy is used to heat it during the cold Mars nights, when temperatures drop to -90°C. It is equipped to take photos and videos.
The Perseverance rover landed safely on the red planet on Thursday, after a voyage of seven months, and about 480 million kilometres. It is in the planet’s Jezero Crater, which scientists think contained a lake 3.5 billion years ago.
This is only the fifth rover to land on Mars. Since the first one landed in 1997, all Mars rovers have been American. One of them, Curiosity, is still active on the red planet.
Perseverance should be taking its first rock samples this summer. The sealed tubes should then be brought back to Earth by a future mission, in the 2030s, to be analysed.