The helicopter intelligence sent by NASA to Mars turned its impulses for the first time in a test before the scheduled flight Sunday night, the first aircraft of a motor-equipped spacecraft on another planet.
“The helicopter is fine, it’s healthy,” Ingenious operations manager Tim Cunham told a news conference Friday.
“Last night … we turned the propellers very slowly and carefully,” he said.
The moment was captured by a Perseverance rover located several meters away, in which the helicopter landed on Mars on February 18 and was carried away before parting from last weekend.
NASA has released a short video clip of the spacecraft, which was similar to a large drone, with its propulsions spinning.
The first flight will take place on Monday at 02:54 GMT (Sunday 22:54 on the east coast of the United States), the US space agency announced.
The first data is expected to reach Earth on Monday at 08:15 GMT (04:15 on the east coast of the United States).
The live feed of NASA teams analyzing this first data is visible on the space agency’s website.
The first flight will last a total of 40 seconds, and will rise vertically before the helicopter stays in the air.
“We’m going to take off, go up to ten feet, turn in the direction of the rover, take a photo, and then go down,” Cunham announced.
NASA plans to launch five flights a month, increasing the difficulty.
The last test of “full-speed” propulsion has not yet been done this Friday, said Mimi Ang, project manager for the helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JBL).
Climbing into the Martian air is challenging because it has a density equal to 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Although less gravitational than Earth, NASA crews had to build an ultralight engine (1.8 kg) that would rotate at a faster speed than a stationary helicopter.
What are the chances of success of this aircraft? “The only uncertainty is Mars’ environment,” said Mimi Ang, including “Wind.” It’s a “high risk” experience, but with a “better pay” if you are successful, he said succinctly.