Ingenuity Helicopter Survives Its First Night Alone on Mars

On April 3, 2021, the spacecraft launched from the Perseverance rover and successfully landed on the red planet

An image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
After completing the first milestone surviving on its own, Ingenuity is now preparing for its next challenge, passing a series of test flights on the Red Planet's thin atmosphere. NASA/JPL-Caltech

After much anticipation, NASA confirmed in a statement that the Mars Ingenuity helicopter survived subzero temperatures on its first night alone on the red planet, reports Ashley Strickland for CNN.

Temperatures on Mars can reach minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which can damage Ingenuity's battery and electrical components. To survive the first frigid night without the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity had to rely on its battery and solar panels to keep from freezing, reports Catherine Thorbecke for ABC.

"This is the first time that Ingenuity has been on its own on the surface of Mars, but we now have confirmation that we have the right insulation, the right heaters, and enough energy in its battery to survive the cold night, which is a big win for the team," said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. "We're excited to continue to prepare Ingenuity for its first flight test."

After completing the first milestone of surviving on its own, Ingenuity is now preparing for its next challenge: passing a series of test flights on the Red Planet's thin atmosphere. Before the chopper can take flight, various tasks need to be completed. First, the mission team will ensure that Ingenuity is charging and using solar energy efficiently, so there will be enough energy to power its flight, reports Chelsea Gohd for Space.com.

Next, the helicopter blades will unlock, and the team will test them by first rotating the blades in the same direction. Then, Ingenuity will spin its blades slowly at 50 rotations per minute (RPM) and eventually, increase to 2,400 RPM, Space.com reports. The blades are expected to be released and unlocked by April 7, CNN reports. Once Ingenuity completes these tasks, it will be ready for lift-off, no sooner than the evening of April 11, NASA explains in a statement.

Ingenuity will have 30 Martian sols, or 31 Earth days, to complete five test flights. During the first flight, it will hover 10 feet into the air for 30 seconds, turn, and then land back on Mars' surface, CNN reports. The sequential flights will test the helicopters' ability to fly at higher altitudes for more extended periods. The Perseverance rover will observe Ingenuity from afar and take photos and video. Ingenuity is not carrying any scientific equipment for its flight, but it will also take photos while it soars, reports Mike Wall for Space.com.

The Mars helicopter's flight will be historic, as it is the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. To honor the feat, Ingenuity contains a piece of cloth from the Wright Brother's plane, Flyer 1, attached to one of its solar panels.

"Our 30-sol test schedule is frontloaded with exciting milestones. Whatever the future holds, we will acquire all the flight data we can within that timeframe," said Teddy Tzanetos, deputy operations lead for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, in a statement.