NASA to unveil plans for Mars helicopter test flights today. Here's how to watch live.

NASA is expected to unveil new details about the debut flight of its Mars helicopter Ingenuity today (March 23) and you can watch it live.

Ingenuity is tucked away in the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover, which landed inside Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. The agency will provide an update on the helicopter’s flight plan, including the location of its first test flights, during a virtual media briefing at 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT). You can watch a livestream of the event here and on the homepage, courtesy of NASA, or directly via the space agency.

"Ingenuity's test flights are expected to begin no earlier than the first week of April," NASA officials said in a statement. "The exact timing of the first flight will remain fluid as engineers work out details on the timeline for deployments and vehicle positioning of Perseverance and Ingenuity."

Related: NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity explained 

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The media briefing will be hosted by members operating Ingenuity and NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. The teams have chosen Ingenuity’s flight zone, where the robotic helicopter will perform its initial test flights — the first ever attempt at powered, controlled flights on another planet. 

Ingenuity took a big step in preparing for its historic test flights this past weekend, when Perseverance dropped the protective shell that shielded the helicopter during its harrowing landing on Mars last month. The debris shield was removed on Sunday (March 21), at which point Ingenuity was exposed to the Red Planet’s atmosphere for the first time. 

Now, Perseverance is en route to Ingenuity’s designated flight zone, where the rover will safely lower the helicopter to the Martian surface. Then, the rover will back away to give the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper room to unlock its four rotor blades and carry out a few spin tests.  

Ingenuity has a limited experiment window of up to 31 days (30 Mars days, or sols), during which NASA teams will attempt up to five test flights. The helicopter will start from a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) airfield and return before landing. It will fly at altitudes of 10-15 feet (3-5 meters) and travel as far as 160 feet (50 meters) from its starting point. Each flight will last no more than about 90 seconds, according to the mission plan

Meanwhile, Perseverance is designed to deploy the helicopter and provide environmental monitoring and imaging support. The rover also hosts Ingenuity’s base station, which allows mission controllers on Earth to communicate with the spacecraft. However, after Ingenuity's 30-day experiment window, the rover will shift its focus to its primary goal of exploring Jezero crater and caching samples to be returned to Earth by a future mission.

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.