Over the weekend, visitors to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California got to see a life-size replica of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter in flight.
Ingenuity made history in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to make a manned flight to another planet. Since then, it has made more than 50 Mars flybys and even assisted NASA’s Perseverance ground rover by taking aerial pictures to help the JPL team plan safe and efficient routes across the Martian surface.
JPL this week shared a short video (below) of its replica Ingenuity buzzing around Earth;
The Mars lander display over the weekend was part of the first Explore JPL event in four years after the pandemic prompted its suspension. Visitors could witness the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall drone make short flights just like Ingenuity did on Mars.
The conditions of terrestrial flights, however, were slightly different.
For starters, the atmosphere on Mars is 100 times thinner than here on Earth, making it more difficult for engineers to design a vehicle capable of stable flight.
To achieve this, Ingenuity’s carbon fiber blades, arranged in two rotors, spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute (rpm), much faster than the roughly 500 rpm used by helicopters on our planet.
Also at the JPL event, a pilot stood nearby to control the replica plane, but the real Ingenuity receives flight instructions from more than 160 million miles away before deploying the onboard guidance, navigation and control systems to ensure a safe flight.
More than 20,000 people attended the event at JPL’s base north of Los Angeles. Visitors were able to learn more about JPL’s past, present and future missions, and could even talk to JPL staff and ask questions about their work.
Explore JPL is an occasional event, so check its website for details on the next one. It also conducts free in-person and virtual tours of its facility.