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Watch NASA’s video showing off its first-ever Mars aircraft

The highly anticipated Mars 2020 rover mission is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 7.50 p.m. ET on Thursday, July 30.

Onboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will be NASA’s Perseverance rover, which will continue the work of other robot vehicles that gave gone before, including Curiosity, which continues to explore the Martian surface.

Attached to Perseverance is a small helicopter called Ingenuity, which is set to become the first-ever aircraft to fly on another planet.

“From day one, this was the unwavering dream of our team, to get our helicopter launched to Mars so that we can get the opportunity to do that very first rotor-craft flight test in the actual environment of Mars,” MiMi Aung, project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory where much of the work on Ingenuity has taken place, said in a recently released video (below), adding, “It’s extremely difficult to fly at Mars because the atmosphere is so thin.”

When it reaches the Red Planet, Ingenuity will use its on-board camera to look for potentially interesting research sites for future missions, and also gather data for mapping routes for rovers taking part in those missions. Importantly, it will also provide NASA with vital data for designing and building more advanced aircraft for future space trips.

The autonomous flying machine tips the scales at a mere 4 pounds (1.8 kg) and uses four rotors, each one a little longer than a meter, to get airborne. A small box-like fuselage contains the technology that powers it, and also houses the downward-facing camera that will scan and capture images of the planet’s surface. Ingenuity will draw power from its solar cells and batteries, and an internal heater will help it cope with Mars’ bitterly cold nights.

NASA has planned five flights for Ingenuity across a period of about a month, with each flight designed to be more challenging than the one before. For example, its maiden flight will be a gentle hover test just a few meters off the ground to confirm the machine has arrived in full working order and can handle the conditions as expected, while later flights could see it flying distances of more than 70 meters at a time as it goes about its work.

The video above shows the team working on the first-ever Mars helicopter and discussing what it has planned for the aircraft, while another video shows the unique way in which Perseverance will deploy the helicopter when it reaches the Martian surface in February 2021.

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