Flight on another planet (MARS)

Flights within the earth are possible taking into account our atmosphere composed of air. But when talking about flying through outer space or even an almost non-existent atmosphere or one that is composed of other gases like the planets in our solar system, propulsion methods and flight dynamics of the vehicles will be significantly affected.

Pluto atmosphere. Source: Nasa
Mars and earth atmosphere comparison. Source: Nasa

Performing flight in another world is a case of study right now, a project launched in space recently is the Mars helicopter, ingenuity. As a platform of flight demonstration in another atmosphere. there are high expectations for this mission since it is the first experiment of this type that will have debut beyond the earth.

Ingenuity. Source: Nasa

On July 30, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, USA, carrying this terrestrial vehicle along with the Mars helicopter in it. The seven months’ travel to the red planet is under its expected conditions now, and the landing is scheduled to be on February 18, 2021, a date in the future for us.

On its arrival, the mission will start with a series of flight tests. For the first flight of the ingenuity, it will take off few feet from the ground and it will be hovering (Floating as a helicopter) in the air for about 20 to 30 seconds before landing.

That will be a major milestone: the very first powered flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars!

Mars helicopter and perseverance. Source: Nasa.

The experimental flights will continue with other maneuvers with incrementally farther flight distance and greater altitude.

The helicopter may fly for up to 90 seconds, to distances of almost 980 feet (300 meters) at a time and about 10 to 15 feet from the ground. That’s no small feat compared to the first 12-second flight of the Wright Brothers’ airplane.


The Ingenuity will be released from the belly of the rover, it will drop the shield and leave the helicopter in the appropriate place to perform the flight. The mass of this helicopter is only 1.8 Kilograms with a blade span of 1.2 meters. The flight on mars will demonstrate the flying miniaturized technology and autonomous systems integrated on the ingenuity. Furthermore, it uses solar energy to charge the batteries and the internal heaters that maintain operational temperatures during the very cold Martian nights.

This mission is a great milestone in space missions, the Mars helicopter will be the first test of powered flight on another planet. Taking into account that atmospheric conditions on mars are different than earth, its atmosphes has less than 1% the density of Earth’s, making the lift or flight much harder for lifting surfaces such as propellers or wings.

Ingenuity helicopter and Jet propulsion Laboratory scientists. Source: NASA and JPL-Caltech

NASA hopes to advance the use of rotorcraft in Mars for supporting in navigation and other exploration missions in the future.



Cover photo: Nasa

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