A camera under NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars has sent the first photograph of the Ingenuity helicopter from the Red Planet. It is the first aircraft taken to another world.
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The image, released by the mission’s Twitter account, was taken after the protective casing was detached. of the apparatus in the belly of Perseverance.
Ingenuity is stored on its side, folded and locked in its compartment. This week the rover is scheduled to head to the point designated as ‘heliport’, to deposit it in a complex maneuver. There, Ingenuity will carry out the ‘reverse origami’ program to get set up and ready for flight.
The helicopter sent status reports to control on Earth since two days after the mission’s arrival at Jezero crater, on February 18. Since then he has been charging batteries with power from the rover.
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The helicopter’s square fuselage (which houses computers, cameras, batteries, and the like) is about the size of a softball (20 by 16 by 14 centimeters).
But if you look out of the box, there are many other important things, including an antenna, solar panel, landing legs and two rotors that are 1.2 meters wide, making stowing and deploying the helicopter a challenge. The entire package weighs approximately 2 kilograms.
The deployment process from the rover begins with the release of a locking mechanism that holds the helicopter in place. A wire-cutting pyrotechnic device is then fired, allowing a spring-loaded arm holding the helicopter to begin turning Ingenuity out of its horizontal position.
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On the 67-centimeter walk to the ground, a small electric motor will pull the arm until it engages, bringing the helicopter body fully vertical with two of its spring-loaded landing legs deployed. Another pyrotechnic ignition will release the other legs.
If all goes well, the mission controllers will order the delivery system to let go, and the Ingenuity helicopter will travel the last 5 inches to the ground. Once it’s confirmed it’s okay, Perseverance will be asked to move away so the helicopter can begin recharging its batteries with its solar panel.