NASA's Mars helicopter, called Ingenuity, was turned on and tested for the first time in space last week.
The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) helicopter, which is attached to NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, is currently undergoing an almost seven-month journey to the Red Planet.
Designed as the first helicopter to fly on another planet, Ingenuity's battery system was successfully tested whilst in space flight.
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On August 7, Ingenuity's six lithium-ion batteries were powered up and charged for the first time during space flight. The helicopter, which is currently stowed inside Perseverance is charged via the rover's power supply, NASA explained in a statement.
"This charge activity shows we have survived launch and that so far we can handle the harsh environment of interplanetary space," MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL, said in the statement. "We have a lot more firsts to go before we can attempt the first experimental flight test on another planet, but right now we are all feeling very good about the future."
The batteries were only charged to 35 percent capacity so as to maintain optimal battery health, NASA explained. The charging took eight hours, during which NASA analyzed the performance and was happy with what it saw.
"This was a big milestone, as it was our first opportunity to turn on Ingenuity and give its electronics a 'test drive' since we launched on July 30," explained Tim Canham, the operations lead for Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "Since everything went by the book, we'll perform the same activity about every two weeks to maintain an acceptable state of charge." All going well, Perseverance is set to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. Shortly after that, the Ingenuity team will conduct a few test flights. After its full deployment, the helicopter will be charged by its own solar panel.
The stakes are high, as success for this mission will open the doors to the tantalizing prospect of more future missions exploring the Red Planet extensively from the skies.