We recently wrote about how drone technology has advanced over the years and how we will see drone ports appear across the globe, but now we have some news that is literally out of this covid infested world!
With all today's regulations we can't imagine a place where there are virtually no rules whatsoever concerning flying drones, however yesterday that all changed when the NASA Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars... carrying a small helicopter called Ingenuity.
If all goes according to plan, Ingenuity will become the first aircraft to fly on Mars and that is literally the primary goal ... simply to fly on Mars... but it's not that simple!
It is planned to attempt a series of 30-90 second flights over a 30 "martian day". The science part of the mission will be left to Perseverance which will go looking for little green men (or women) , although hopefully it will take a few photos if nothing else. The importance of the mission is to show that flight on Mars is possible, whilst collecting data that will influence future space drones that will be far more ambitious.
Flying a helicopter on Mars is incredibly challenging for a bunch of reasons, including frigid temperatures (as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius), dust, a very thin atmosphere (just 1% the density of Earth’s), the power requirements, and the communications limitations - being separated from Earth by 10 light minutes means that real-time communication or control is impossible, hence most of the flight will be pre programmed with human control being limited.
Unless the local alien aviation authority have their own drone policy it really is strange to think you could fly virtually anywhere if the technology is proved successful in such a different climate.
A whole world with no obstructions, buildings, roads (maybe a few rocks here and there), no NFZ's (no fly zones, ie airports), no groups of people to keep clear off, no need to keep 50 metres + from built up areas. No need to stay below 120m to avoid civil aircraft. Who would really care if you let the drone out of Visual line of Sight (VLOS)? if operating a drone on Mars from a control centre in Florida isn't out of sight then what is? Have the pilots got a PFCO /operational authorisation from the CAA? Do they have public liability insurance to cover injury to our space friends or display an operator ID? Do you think there is a need for a comprehensive operations manual full of procedures? Would a risk assessment be needed when there are nothing but rocks around?
Unfortunately flying a drone back here with proven technology on earth is a lot more complicated, well in terms of risk anyway, and that is why as a professional drone operator we are highly regulated and comply with all the above.
We look forward to witnessing history being made in the next few days.
Mass 1.8 kilograms
Weight 4 pounds on Earth; 1.5 pounds on Mars
Width Total length of rotors: ~4 feet (~1.2 meters) tip to tip
Power Solar panel charges Lithium-ion batteries, providing enough energy for one 90-second flight per Martian day (~350 Watts of average power during flight)
Blade span Just under 4 feet (1.2 meters)
Flight range Up to 980 feet (300 meters)
Flight altitude Up to 15 feet (5 meters)
Flight environment Thin atmosphere, less than 1% as dense as Earth's