When NASA's Perseverance rover launches on July 30, a small craft will ride along: the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Though merely 4 lbs light, the space chopper has some heavy feats waiting to be conquered.
Here are key facts about the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
First aircraft to attempt controlled flight outside Earth
Ingenuity is the first of its kind -- and flying on Mars isn't as simple as flying on Earth. On the Red Planet, the atmosphere is so thin that lifting the small craft is nearly impossible. Because the atmosphere is 99% less dense than our own, Ingenuity has to be light, and its rotor blades much larger. The blades have to spin incredibly fast too.
And no, Ingenuity is not like a drone that you can control with a joystick. Scientists are yet to figure out a way to communicate at such a distance without communication delays. For now, JPL has devised a plan in order for the commands to be sent in advance and hope that Ingenuity's autonomous system is reliable enough to make its own decisions.
Ingenuity was supposed to be the Perseverance rover's name
The name Ingenuity was actually submitted by high school student Vaneeza Rupani for the Mars 2020 rover. NASA eventually decided it was to be named Perseverance but recognized the student's submission as a fantastic name for the helicopter.
"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani wrote. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things."
Ingenuity is a flight test
The space chopper is what scientists call a technology demo, a term for projects that are tested for the first time, with limited scope. Among NASA's tech demonstrations include the Mars Pathfinder rover Sojourner and the tiny Mars Cube One (MarCO) CubeSats that flew by Mars two years ago.
Ingenuity could pave the way for future exploration in an aerial viewpoint
NASA is hoping that Ingenuity will succeed because it means scientists could soon deploy more aerial technology on Mars, which will provide them with a unique viewpoint.
The views Martian aircraft could offer is expected to be entirely different from what current orbiters high overhead or by rovers and landers on the ground could offer. In the future, scientists are hoping will be able to capture high-def images of Mars, including areas that a land rover finds difficult to access.
No matter what day, Perseverance lifts off during its July 20-Aug. 11 launch period, it will land at Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.