Updated 4 April 2021
Ingenuity, the $80 million drone carried to Mars attached to the Perseverance rover, is being prepared for a long-awaited test flight in the red planet’s cold, ultra-thin atmosphere. The 1.8-kilogram (4-pound) dual-rotor drone was carried to Mars with its landing legs folded, nestled to the belly of the rover behind a protective shield. The shield, which protected the drone from rocks kicked up during Perseverance’s landing 18 February, was discarded after touchdown and the landing legs extended as seen in photographs from one of the rover’s two dozen cameras. The drone then was released 3 April, dropping 10 centimeters (4 inches) to the ground, and Perseverance backed away. After carefully monitored battery charging and tests of the communications links between Ingenuity and Perseverance, the drone’s twin rotors will be unlocked for the first in a series of 90-second test flights to determine the feasibility of powered flight in the martian atmosphere. Appropriately, the small copter is carrying a postage stamp-size bit of fabric from the Wright brothers’ first airplane. Ingenuity’s “Wright brothers moment,” its first test flight, is expected between 8 and 11 April.