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June 24, 2024

Ingenuity Soars to New Heights in Record-Breaking 70th Flight on Mars

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Jan 5, 2024

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter continues to prove its worth as an aerial scout on the Red Planet, setting a new maximum distance record on its historic 70th flight. The 4-pound rotorcraft was originally designed to fly only 5 times after landing with the Perseverance rover in February 2021, but has far exceeded expectations, providing invaluable data and serving as a pathfinder for future Mars aerial vehicles.

Longest and Fastest Flight Yet

On December 29, 2022, Ingenuity took off on its longest and fastest flight since arriving on Mars, traveling 1,053 feet (321 meters) at a top speed of 11.5 mph (18.6 kph) [[1]]. This 70th sortie set a new maximum distance record, beating the previous milestone of 2,310 feet set on Flight 46 in July 2022 [[2]].

The 1,053-foot journey took 169.5 seconds – nearly 3 minutes – as Ingenuity climbed 32 feet, flew forward, took color photos, then turned around and returned to Wright Brothers Field. According to Ingenuity’s chief pilot Håvard Grip of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “Less than a year ago I almost couldn’t imagine flying to 800 feet, and now we’re at well over 1,000.” [[3]]

Flight Details
Date December 29, 2022
Flight Time 169.5 seconds
Distance 1,053 feet (321 meters)
Top Speed 11.5 mph (18.6 kph)
Max Altitude 32 feet

Not only did Ingenuity set a new maximum distance record, it also broke its previous 11.3 mph fast flight speed record set on Flight 19 [[4]]. Its expanded flight envelope enables the helicopter scout to cover more ground and serve as an even better pathfinding free-flier for NASA.

Adding Scout Value for Perseverance

Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, touching down in Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021 [[5]]. The small rotorcraft was designed as a technology demonstration to test powered flight in Mars’ thin atmosphere – not as a science instrument or crucial mission component. But after proving itself time and again in the alien environment, Ingenuity quickly became an essential aerial scout able to access rugged terrain unavailable to the six-wheeled Perseverance.

“Ingenuity is going the distance, allowing the Perseverance science team insight into where they wish to drive in order to best access astrobiologically interesting samples,” said Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The flights we are doing now at one-kilometer distances are something that we’ve wanted to do from pretty much the beginning.” [[6]]

While Ingenuity scouts from the air, Perseverance roams the Jezero landscape collecting rock core samples from ancient river deltas and lake beds. These samples will eventually be returned to Earth by later Mars missions to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. Ingenuity’s flights have allowed scientists to survey features and terrain unreachable by rover, aiding in decisions about where to send Perseverance next.

“Perseverance is roving to unique geologic features in part informed and identified by Ingenuity,” Tzanetos said. “The helicopter remains a scout, helping set traversals for the rover.”

What’s Next for Ingenuity?

Now embarking on its second year of Mars operations, Ingenuity will continue expanding its flight envelope and range, serving as an aerial companion for the Perseverance rover. While designed for only 5 short test flights, it has proven itself resilient in Mars’ harsh environment, surviving frigid nights, dust storms and rugged terrain.

“(Ingenuity’s) lifetime will be determined mostly by how it lands at the end of flights,” said JPL’s Grip. “Without good airfields, the rotorcraft could begin to fail. I’m hoping we make it to Flight 100 before that happens.” [[7]]

If its mechanisms continue working, Ingenuity has the potential to keep flying for quite some time. It will likely continue scouting the landscape around Perseverance, charting safe paths forward and surveying scientifically interesting geological features. Some of its future goals include [[8]]:

  • Flying at least 3,280 feet (1 kilometer) in a single flight
  • Reaching altitudes up to 164 feet (50 meters)
  • Performing more complicated aerial maneuvers
  • Potentially acting as an aerial communications relay between Perseverance and future spacecraft

While Ingenuity conducted aerial surveys, Perseverance spent 2022 exploring some of the most intriguing parts of the 28-mile wide (45-kilometer) Jezero Crater. This included the former location of a fan-delta along the crater’s western rim, where a river spilled out of the highlands onto the valley floor long ago.

In 2023, Perseverance expects to comprehensively explore the crater’s floor, including the rocky remains of an ancient lake bed. The rover will drill its most ambitious collection of samples to date from these astrobiologically interesting sites. Future Mars missions will return these cached samples to Earth laboratories for in-depth study searching for definitive signs of ancient microbial life.

Conclusion

Originally intended as a simple technology demonstration, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has exceeded all expectations – surviving for nearly a year on Mars and providing invaluable scouting services for the Perseverance rover. Its record-breaking 70th flight proved it still has history to make as an aerial explorer, charting safe terrain for its rover companion and serving as a pathfinder for more advanced Mars rotorcraft of the future. Where it will fly next is anyone’s guess, but Ingenuity continues to write its name in the interplanetary history books one flight at a time.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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