Home Blog articles Ingenuity – The drone-helicopter that will fly to Mars

Ingenuity – The drone-helicopter that will fly to Mars

by Fabio Affortunato
Ingenuity Drone Elicottero Marte
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The Perseverance rover touched the ground of Mars at 9:55 pm Italian time, landing in the crater called Jezero. An enterprise bordering on the impossible, dreamed of by man for decades, in the hope of being able to find “Martian” life forms albeit in a bacterial state.

In reality, this is not the only challenge of Perseverance. In fact, under the rover there is a small helicopter drone called “Ingenuity” which will have the task of flying to Mars..

Ingenuity – Features of the helicopter drone

Come As a drone, the characteristics of Ingenuity, headed as flight time and maximum height, in this case Above Ground Mars Level (A.G.M.L.), are quite limited, as it can fly for no more than 90 seconds at a maximum height above the surface of only 5 meters, but reach a horizontal distance of 500 meters. On the other hand, these limitations appear quite evident since the helicopter drone had for obvious reasons to weigh little (weight 1.8 kg), and therefore could not be equipped with more performing batteries, considering that the payloads (cameras) and other sensors are the most important part of the small drone.

Ingenuity is equipped with four “legs” and its 1.2 meters wide carbon fiber rotors, hence its correct name as “drone-helicopter”.

Ingenuity Drone Elicottero

Ingenuity – Source NASA

The challenges of Ingenuity

Ingenuity in order to carry out his missions to Mars must overcome a series of challenges, which include:

  • reduced weight strength, which on Mars is reduced by 2.64 times. The acceleration of gravity on the red planet is in fact 3.71 m / s2, so its real weight on Mars is reduced to 680 grams;
  • reduced density of the Martian atmosphere, which is 1% compared to the Earth’s. In this situation, the laws of aerodynamics must be adapted to the objective conditions; the lift generated by the rotors must therefore be considerably greater than that necessary on the ground in order to allow the Ingenuity to take off;
  • operating temperature, which ranges from 20OC to -140OC, with a preponderant negative value of many tens of degrees;
  • Martian winds, which can reach 400 km / h and sweep everything away.

Ingenuity – Hardware and software

Ingenuity is equipped with an onboard Snapdragon 801 processor, and is governed by the S.O. Linux, and the S.O. is available on GitHub.

Due to the distance between the Earth and the red planet, the helicopter drone will fly autonomously following a predetermined trajectory set in the onboard software, based on established waypoints. In fact, considering the time taken by the radio waves to reach the Earth, a delay would accumulate such that the helicopter drone could not be piloted remotely.

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Ingenuity – The first flight of the helicopter drone

Ingenuity’s first flight is scheduled for spring and if all goes well it will carry out at least four reconnaissance. To stay up to date on Ingenuity’s first flight, just sign up for the NASA newsletter at the following  link.

Considerations on drones as scientific instruments

Ingenuity is the classic demonstration that drones will find more and more space in scientific research as tools for data collection (Aerial data) and exploration.

Without arriving on Mars, the use of drones in the environmental field has already achieved important results and many others will be able to achieve, especially by targeting the sharing of aerial data purchased. All that remains is to overcome the limit of imagination and develop ideas and projects based on the use of helicopter drones, fixed-wing drones or drones with rotors and develop many interesting business opportunities.

For whose interested in drones-UAS as business opportunity we suggest having look at DroneStartUp.

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Credit about images: The cover image is taken from pixabay.com, free for commercial use with no attribution request. The author is David Mark. The image of the Ingenuity helicopter drone and the related video, taken from the YouTube channel, are owned by NASA. The use of the images is exclusively for the purpose of a better understanding of the contents of the article

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Last Updated on/Ultimo aggiornamento – 01/05/2021

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