March 4, 2024

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Goodbye to the first flying machine on another planet: the Martian helicopter Ingenuity (2021-2024)

Goodbye to the first flying machine on another planet: the Martian helicopter Ingenuity (2021-2024)

The American Mars helicopter Ingenuity was supposed to make five flights. Their number was 72. The final landing, which damaged the plane's blades, was fatal. The helicopter proved that flying on other worlds is not only possible, but also beneficial.

George Van Hal

Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet in the belly of the US Mars rover Perseverance on February 18, 2021. The helicopter has rotors with a wingspan of 1.2 meters and rotates at lightning speed, much larger and much faster than the rotors of similar terrestrial drones. This was necessary to fly the 1.8-kilogram helicopter in the thin atmosphere of Mars.

During the three years of its mission, Ingenuity has weathered dust storms, lifted off from 48 different locations, performed three emergency landings, survived the harsh Martian winter and overcame problems with a malfunctioning navigation sensor. After a total of 72 flights filled with mighty feats, the exercise is now over.

The creation ultimately lasted 33 times longer than expected, spending a total of about two hours above the surface of Mars. In all its short trips combined, the vehicle covered about 17 kilometers.

The helicopter was primarily intended to test this type of alien flight technology, but it has also helped Perseverance in recent years as scouts. The helicopter surveyed the area through which the vehicle would later fly, proving in the process that flying machines can make a useful contribution to planetary missions.

An image of Ingenuity on the surface of Mars, captured by the cameras of the Perseverance rover.Photo by Agence France-Presse

The Wright brothers

Although the helicopter was still upright and able to communicate with the control center after its final flight on January 18, one or more of its rotor blades were damaged during landing, NASA announced on Thursday. This damage now marks the end of the first powered flying machine on another planet.

In 2021, NASA compared Ingenuity's first flight on Mars to that of the Wright brothers, bicycle makers who made the first powered flight on Earth with their self-made aircraft in 1903, thus founding the current aviation industry. Partly for this reason, Ingenuity carried a small piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer, a piece that now remains permanently in the brown-red plains of Mars.

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