Did you know the Perseverance rover, scheduled to launch this month, will have a helicopter onboard?

A 4-pound rotorcraft, attached to the belly of the rover in April 2020, will be released to the Mars surface about two and a half months after Perseverance lands.

The helicopter, known as Ingenuity , has four legs and two carbon-fiber propellers measuring four feet in diameter. An antenna and solar panel sit above the twin counter-rotating blades.

Ingenuity, designed to fly only 30 to 90 seconds at a time, aims to be the first spacecraft flown from another planet — a challenging demonstration considering the thin atmosphere of Mars.

Before being deployed onto the surface of Jezero Crater, the Mars helicopter will rely on the rover for power. Once released, the aerial vehicle will generate its own electrical power through the solar panel.

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By successfully completing the test flights, NASA hopes to advance the use of helicopters in Mars scouting missions. If a helicopter can fly on the Red Planet, the flier has the potential to move out ahead of rovers — and perhaps even humans explorers someday — to support guidance and navigation applications.

So, how long will Ingenuity and Perseverance stay together once on Mars?

The Mars Helicopter, visible in lower center of the image, was attached to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

In a live Tech Briefs presentation this month called Mars 2020: The Legacy Continues for NASA Space Robotics, a reader had the following question for Keith A. Comeaux, Mars 2020 Deputy Chief Engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

  • "Will the helicopter be carried by the rover as it moves from location to location?"

Read Comeaux's edited response below.

Keith Comeaux: "No, unfortunately not. It's really a technology demonstration. Once we release the helicopter, we're going to drive away from it, and it's largely on its own.

We'll leave it in a spot where it's safe to take off and land, and drive 100 meters or so, and continue communicating with it, take pictures of it, and operate it from a safe distance. We don't want to be near it, in case it should have a mishap.

We don't actually re-dock it to the rover.

Once we demonstrate that we can, in fact, fly a helicopter on Mars, the future of the helicopter is a little bit uncertain. We might try to have it fly along with us, if it doesn't interrupt the science too much. There are still ongoing discussions about that."

Learn more about the Mars 2020 helicopter demonstration at NASA.gov .

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