A copter on Mars: This is NASA on the Red Planet

A copter on Mars: This is NASA on the Red Planet

Perseverance will now begin its 'couple of days' drive to the designated helipad inside the Jezero crater

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has been seen on Mars for the first time, strapped to the belly of the Perseverance rover, ahead of its first flight next month.

The debris shield, covering the small helicopter, was discarded by Perseverance on Sunday, revealing Ingenuity tucked up and stowed sideways under the vehicle.

It was 'folded up and locked in place,' according to NASA, who said there would be 'some reverse origami' required before it can be deployed to the Martian surface.

Perseverance will now begin its 'couple of days' drive to the designated helipad inside the Jezero crater, where Ingenuity will begin its maiden flight.

NASA says it will launch 'no earlier than the first week of April,' at which point they will have 30 days to make the first launch of a helicopter on another world.

Before it can track the first flight of an aircraft on the Red Planet, Perseverance needs to 'drop off' Ingenuity in a clear, safe area that will become the first Martian helipad.

The debris shield was designed to protect the 4lb chopper during the '7 minutes of terror' landing on the Red Planet on more than a month ago February 18, 2021.

Removing the debris shield before making the trip reduces the amount of debris that could cause problems for the helicopter landing back on Mars, says NASA.

Ahead of the first flight the US space agency has also been tracking the weather on Mars to ensure it is safe to fly - much like a pilot on Earth gets a weather forecast.

'The obvious weather we are interested in could be called Atmospheric Weather, but there is also a different kind of weather we care about – Space Weather, which has to do with the fact that Ingenuity is as much a spacecraft as an aircraft,' said NASA.

Atmospheric weather relates to conditions such as air density at flight time, which affects the thrust that can be produced by the rotor. Temperature and wind profiles during the day are also used to estimate the energy required to operate heaters.

A copter on Mars: This is NASA on the Red Planet
NASA's Mars rover takes its first drive on the Red planet

Winds at the time of the flight are tied to risks associated with takeoff, landing, and flying in high winds or very gusty conditions.

'All the things that a pilot on Earth would care about too,' the agency wrote.

'Luckily for Ingenuity, weather forecasting on Mars is in some ways more straightforward than on Earth,' the agency explained.

'The absence of oceans leads to a fairly repeatable pattern and so looking at the weather forecasts and data on the days leading up to the flight informs us on conditions for the actual flight.'

Space weather is linked to the radiation coming from the sun and how that affects Ingenuity, according to NASA, who said everything on Mars is baths in cosmic rays.

The helicopter has a number of components not specifically engineered to cope with the high energy particles coming from our star, NASA has to keep a close eye on solar weather events including coronal mass ejections.

If an event is predicted and will be intense, then it could delay the operation of Ingenuity for a day or two until the surge of particles passes by, said NASA.

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