NASA hoped for five helicopter flights on Mars. Ingenuity simply turned 50!

The Ingenuity Chopper on Mars is the little helicopter that just keeps going. It does so even when making flights over fairly difficult ground on the Red Planet. On April 13, Ingenuity completed its 50th flight of the mission, 45 more than originally planned.

During the April 13 trip, the small helicopter flew 322.2 meters in 145.7 seconds. It was 18 meters uphill – a new altitude record. At the end of the flight, Ingenuity settled near the Belva crater. It’s all an amazing achievement and the mission is poised to do more.

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments long after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to follow and learn from the flight operations of the first airplane on another world,” said Lori Glaze, director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

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Where next?

The next flight for the helicopter is a “repositioning trip” to get it in the right place for the next explorations. Mission Controllers are eyeing a region called Fall River Pass, which is part of the Jezero Crater region. The “mother ship” of Perseverance – Ingenuity landed there in February 2021.

It’s all part of the ongoing exploration of Jezero Crater. Planetary scientists believe this crater was filled with water billions of years ago. As such, it can be a key site to look for signs of past life, likely microbial in nature. Although Perseverance is not equipped with life-detection instruments, it is perfectly designed to study the chemistry and geology of the Martian surface. It has been doing this since landing and has traveled more than 17.5 kilometers.

This image shows Jezero Crater – the landing site of the Mars-2020 rover Perseverance – as it might have looked on Mars billions of years ago when it was still a lake. An inlet and an outlet are also visible on either side of the lake. This region is now dry, but Perseverance and Ingenuity are exploring its geology and opportunities for ancient life signs. Courtesy of NASA.

His 51st flight (the repositioning) should happen anytime now. This ride should cover a little over 180 meters in a period of 130 seconds. It’s like Perseverance heading west and will take pictures along the way.

Ingenuity transcends its role as a tech demo

The first helicopter on Mars was supposed to be a demo and only fly a few times. But it caught on. And that despite the rather adverse circumstances. Dust storms smother its blades and solar panel. In the winter it has hibernated, and it continues to “tan” during the night. Now that winter is over, the Ingenuity can recharge faster. It’ll soon be flying over some pretty amazing terrain more frequently. It stays in touch with Perseverance via a helicopter base station aboard its mothership, and uses automatic navigation while it flies.

Ingenuity includes off-the-shelf components such as smartphone processors and cameras. It is surprisingly robust, much to the delight of its owners. “When we first flew, we thought we might be incredibly lucky to make it through five flights,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity Team Lead at JPL. “We have exceeded our total expected flight time by 1,250% and the expected flight distance by 2,214% since our technology demonstration.”

Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides an update on the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter and how it is inspiring future aerial exploration of the Red Planet.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Despite all the success, the chopper shows signs of wear. His future flights and landings will challenge his skills, according to Tzanetos. “We’ve come this far and we want to go further,” said Tzanetos. “But we knew from the start that our time on Mars was limited and every day of the mission is a blessing. Nobody can currently predict whether Ingenuity’s mission will end tomorrow, next week or in months. What I can predict is that we’re going to have a hell of a party then.”

For more informations

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter completes its 50th flight
Mars Helicopter

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