On December 4, 2012, NASA announced one of its most ambitious projects ever, the Mars 2020 mission. The mission objectives would be to explore Mars for past signs of microbial life, water, and habitable conditions using unmanned robotics. On July 30, 2020, Mars 2020 was launched with 2 very important drones by the expendable launch system, Atlas V-541. These 2 drones were the Perseverance Rover (Percy for short) and the Ingenuity Helicopter (Ginny for short). On February 18, 2021, Percy, carrying Ginny, successfully landed on the Martian crater Jezero, which was later dubbed the Octavia E. Buttler Landing Site.
Percy, developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, is a modified version of the Curiosity Rover. The drone has a wide range of payload accessories to gather samples from the surface of Mars. It also has 19 cameras and 2 microphones for video and audio documentation. And while Percy has been busy at work exploring the Martian surface, one of its primary goals was to get Ginny to Mars to complete her mission. Also made by the Jet Propulsion Lab, testing Ginny’s capabilities as the first aerial drone on Mars has become one of the cornerstones of the Mars 2020 mission.
Ginny is a small drone that is powered by solar panel supported Lithium-ion batteries. On Earth, the drone weighs 4lbs, 1.5lbs on Mars. Ginny has a wingspan of just under 4ft and a flight range of 980ft at a maximum altitude of 15ft. On April 19, 2021, after 2 months of Percy getting her ready, Ginny made her maiden flight, the first extraterrestrial drone flight. The drone performed a vertical takeoff, hovered, then a vertical landing for a total of 39.1 seconds. Since then, Ginny has completed 29 flights for a total of approximately 54.2 minutes, covering a distance of around 22,668ft. On April 8, 2022, the drone completed its 25th flight setting new records for a single flight as it flew at speeds of 12mph covering a distance of 2,310ft, surpassing the drone’s original parameters.
Like Percy, Ginny has a range of sensors and cameras to collect data and document missions. All of the videos recorded by both drones are available for the public to view, giving the world an up close view of the Red Planet. “For our record-breaking flight,” explained Teddy Tzanetos, team leader for Ginny, “Ingenuity’s downward-looking navigation camera provided us with a breathtaking sense of what it would feel like gliding 33 feet above the surface of Mars at 12 miles per hour.” Håvard Grip, Ginny’s Chief Pilot from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, went on to say, “As we continue with our flights on Mars, we will keep digging deeper into the data to understand the various subtleties that may exist and would be useful in the design of future aerial explorers. But what we can already say is: Ingenuity has met or exceeded our flight performance expectations.”