NASA Helicopter Ingenuity To Explore Mars

NASA Helicopter Ingenuity To Explore Mars

NASA is all set to fly a drone-like helicopter in the atmosphere of the red planet. The craft named Ingenuity, will hitch a ride to Mars aboard the Perseverance lander, making it the first experimental flight on another planet.

Crux of the Matter

Ingenuity – The Mars Helicopter
The Ingenuity craft is a wheeled, robotic rover that has a mission to drive across the planet’s rugged surface. It will launch from Earth this summer, with the touchdown scheduled for 18 February 2021 on Mars. The craft is 50 cm high with four blades, mounted on twin, counter-rotating rotors covering 1.2 m. The size of the rotors was needed to be huge enough to fly in Mars’s thin atmosphere.

How Good A Photographer Is Ingenuity
Ingenuity carries a black-and-white navigation camera and images are beamed by short-range radio links to Perseverance, which then relays them to one of the  NASA spacecrafts in Mars orbit. Subsequently, they are transmitted back to Earth. Dr. Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says multiple images can then be stitched into a panorama using ground software tools.

The helicopter attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, will be deployed onto the Martian surface. Source: JPL

What Is The Mission
The rover’s mission is astrobiological i.e it will search for signs of past microbial life. It will then characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future passage back to Earth.

The helicopter’s main focus would be to return engineering data from the test flights that will provide valuable feedback to refine future designs and pave way for further human exploration of Mars. The primary plan is for it to complete five flights over a period of 30 days for now.

Part Of The Bigger Picture?
The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

This is just the beginning. Source: NASA
  • The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center in the city of La Cañada Flintridge. The laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of planetary robotic spacecraft and has managed all four successful robotically operated Mars rovers.
  • Mars Cube One (or MarCO) was a Mars flyby mission that consisted of two nano spacecraft, MarCO-A and MarCO-B, that provided a real-time communications link to Earth. The two spacecraft were nicknamed by JPL engineers as WALL-E and EVE in reference to the main characters in the animated film WALL-E.
  • The Martian is a 2015 science fiction film starring Matt Damon. The film depicts an astronaut’s lone struggle to survive on Mars after being left behind, and efforts to rescue him and bring him home to Earth.

NASA raises white flag to SpaceX in the race to Mars


In an interview with Polish publication WP Magazyn, NASA’s Dr. Robert Zubrin admitted that the Elon Musk-led space company SpaceX will reach Mars before NASA. Musk is reportedly planning to launch his mission to establish an outpost on the red planet by 2023 and subsequently send humans in times ahead.

Crux of the Matter

NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover Scheme
As per NASA’s official statement, the Mars 2020 rover is based on its predecessor ‘Curiosity‘ which was launched in 2011. The car-sized rover is about 10 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall while weighing 1,050 kgs. The mission is expected to last for about 687 Earth days, equivalent to one Mars year. The rover is expected to land on February 18, 2021, at Jezero Crater, Mars. The official launch window ranges from July 17 to August 5, 2020, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX’s Mars Game Plan
Elon Musk’s brainchild had stated its aspiration to send its first cargo mission to Mars in 2022. SpaceX’s first mission aircraft ‘Starship‘ is targetted at confirming resources, identifying hazards and placing initial power, mining & life support infrastructure. Its next mission will carry both cargo and crew and is scheduled for 2024. This second mission is aimed at building a propellant depot for future crew flights. Musk hopes to evolve this foundation of the first Mars Base into a self-sustaining civilization.

Clash of NASA-Musk
In a short series of back and forth tweets, Musk had reportedly blamed NASA’s bureaucracy for not yet returning astronauts to the moon. He talked about the progress of mankind from the train to the rocket, expressing his disappointment at not being able to return to the moon after its first flight 50 years ago. This feud comes amidst the US Congress proposing a new space bill. This promises to make NASA push back its moon landing mission to 2028 instead of 2024, and shift back it’s focus to the Mars one.


Exploration of Mars – The planet Mars has been explored remotely by spacecraft. Probes sent from Earth, beginning in the late 20th century, have yielded a large increase in knowledge about the Martian system, focused primarily on understanding its geology and habitability potential. Engineering interplanetary journeys are complicated and the exploration of Mars has experienced a high failure rate, especially the early attempts. Roughly sixty percent of all spacecraft destined for Mars failed before completing their missions and some failed before their observations could begin.

Some missions have met with unexpected success, such as the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, which operated for years beyond their specification. On June 10, 2018, Opportunity rover fell silent, leaving Curiosity of the Mars Science Laboratory mission with six orbiters surveying the planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Orbiter Mission, MAVEN, and the Trace Gas Orbiter, which have contributed massive amounts of information about Mars. More Info