Mars Helicopter Ingenuity launching July 2020


In this episode J. (Bob) Balaram, Chief Engineer for the Mars helicopter INGENUITY project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, joins us to discuss the first-ever helicopter designed to fly on Mars.

The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration to test powered flight on another world for the first time. It is hitching a ride on the Perseverance rover, scheduled for launch on July 22, 2020 and landing on Mars in February 2021.

A series of flight tests will be performed over a 30-Martian-day experimental window that will begin sometime in the spring of 2021. or the very first flight, the helicopter will take off a few feet from the ground, hover in the air for about 20 to 30 seconds, and land. That will be a major milestone: the very first powered flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars! After that, the team will attempt additional experimental flights of incrementally farther distance and greater altitude. After the helicopter completes its technology demonstration, Perseverance will continue its scientific mission.

About J. (Bob) Balaram, Chief Engineer, JPL

J. (Bob) Balaram, Chief Engineer of Mars helicopter Ingenuity

J. (Bob) Balaram, Chief Engineer of Mars helicopter Ingenuity
Photographer: T. Wynne

J. (Bob) Balaram is Chief Engineer; a Principal Member of Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in Computer & Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1985 where his doctoral thesis addressed the control of highly non-linear systems. He has been at JPL ever since and works in the area of Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL), Modeling & Simulation, Telerobotics Technology, and Mobility Concept Development.

Currently Bob is researching precision landing methods for Mars as well as advanced simulation techniques for planetary EDL. He led the team that developed a high-fidelity EDL simulator that recently received a NASA Group Achievement Award and has been adopted for use by the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory mission. He is also the co-developer of a simulator used for planetary rover simulation. Bob has led design teams for developing Mars aerobot (aerial robot) perception systems, a deep-diving Venus balloon gondola concept, and balloon-carried imaging sondes for deployment at Venus. He was also a co-developer of the Rocky-7 rover platform a prototype and precursor to the new generation of rovers such as those on the MER mission.

His work in rovers spans machine vision for rover hazard detection, improved methods for rover position determination, rover system re-configuration, and software system architectures for rover development. Previously Bob was the lead engineer for machine intelligence on the JPL Telerobot Testbed where he led a team responsible for coordinating multiple robotic manipulators and vision-based sensing to achieve automation of servicing operations such as module change-out and assembly. He subsequently worked on the Remote Surface Inspection for the Space Station in the area of real-time, vision-based flaw detection of damage caused to the Space Station over its lifetime in orbit.

For more information on the Ingenuity Mars helicopter, visit

For information on the Mars 2020 mission:

Thanks to Aaron Fishbein ( for sharing his space journey in this episode!

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