NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has announced that the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, which made planetfall aboard the Perseverance rover on February 18th, 2021, has completed a historic milestone: a record-setting flight of 166.4 seconds at 5 meters per second. This is the ninth flight for the small dual rotor probe and serves as a proof of concept for exploration of “unfriendly terrain” through a “high-speed flight”. “High Speed” is of course relative 5 m/s is about 11.18 mph. By comparison, though the SUV-sized Perseverance tops out at an excruciating 152 meters per hour, a little less than 0.1 mph. Ingenuity first took to the skies on April 19th, 2021.
My science team is poring over these color images from the #MarsHelicopter’s latest flight. Ingenuity crossed over a region that would be tricky for me to drive on, adding a new perspective to the picture of Jezero Crater that I’m piecing together.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) July 9, 2021
Ingenuity Shatters Records With It’s Longest Flight Yet
NASA’s Ingenuity is the first-ever aircraft to operate on another celestial body, in another atmosphere. NASA.gov reported,
“Since Ingenuity’s historic first flight on April 19, where it hovered about 10 feet (3 meters) above the Martian surface for 30 seconds, we have been progressively stretching the capabilities of the helicopter by flying farther, faster, and more aggressively. Ingenuity has flown at altitudes up to 33 feet (10 meters) and ground speeds up to 13 feet (4 meters) a second. It covered a distance of 873 feet (266 meters) on Flight 4, and stayed in the air for 139.9 seconds on Flight 6. It has navigated between five different airfields, three of which were identified based on satellite imagery only. It has even survived an in-flight anomaly while still landing within about 16 feet (5 meters) of its intended target.”
According to SciTechDaily, the flight was designed to test the helicopters capability to serve as an aerial scout for it’s host rotor. “Ingenuity soared over a dune field nicknamed “Séítah.” Perseverance is making a detour south around those dunes, which would be too risky for the six-wheeled rover to try crossing.”
“Once a rover gets close enough to a location, we get ground-scale images that we can compare to orbital images,” said Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Ken Williford of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “With Ingenuity, we now have this intermediate-scale imagery that nicely fills the gap in resolution.”
The Jezero crater which Perseverance and Ingenuity are exploring is believed to have been a lake billions of years ago. Based on the ridges present, NASA scientists have posited that water may have flowed through the fractures at some point, dissolving minerals that could feed ancient microbes. In other words: this could be a cradle of martian life.
“Our current plan is to visit Raised Ridges and investigate it close up,” Williford said. “The helicopter’s images are by far better in resolution than the orbital ones we were using. Studying these will allow us to ensure that visiting these ridges is important to the team.”
Perseverance and Ingenuity’s mission is ongoing and now that the Mars Helicopter has proven it’s wings are steady, more amazing images and videos are to come.