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Watch a replica of NASA’s Mars helicopter take flight on Earth

Visitors to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California at the weekend got to see a life-sized replica of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter take flight.

Ingenuity made history in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. It’s since gone on to complete more than 50 Mars flights and has even assisted NASA’s ground-based Perseverance rover by taking aerial images 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 about on Earth:

In the Mars experience, #ExploreJPL visitors saw life-sized replicas of @NASAPersevere and witnessed a model of the Ingenuity #MarsHelicopter taking flight!⁰
🎧 Experience Mars from home: Put on some headphones, and take in some sounds of the Red Planet

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) May 1, 2023

The weekend’s Mars helicopter demonstration 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-high drone-like machine taking short flights in the same way that Ingenuity has been doing on Mars.

The conditions for the Earth flights were, however, a little different.

For starters, the atmosphere on Mars is 100 times thinner than here on Earth, making it more of a challenge for engineers to design a machine capable of sustaining stable flight.

To achieve this, Ingenuity’s carbon-fiber blades — arranged into two rotors — spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute (rpm), way faster than the approximately 500 rpm used by helicopters on our own planet.

Also, for the JPL event, a pilot stood close by to control the replica aircraft, but the real Ingenuity receives flight instructions from more than 160 million miles away before deploying onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems to ensure a safe flight.

More than 20,000 people attended the event at JPL’s base just north of Los Angeles. Visitors were able to learn more about JPL’s missions past, present, and future, and could even chat with JPL personnel and ask questions about their work.

Explore JPL is an occasional event, so check its website for details on the next one. It also holds free in-person and virtual tours of its facility.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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