NASAâsÂ Mars helicopter Ingenuity made it a hat trick on the Red Planet.
The 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper aced its third-ever Martian flight early on the morning of April 25, adding to its already impressive resume.
âThird flight in the history books.â officials at NASAâs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern CaliforniaÂ wrote on Twitter. âOur #MarsHelicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther. The space chopper is demonstrating critical capabilities that could enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future missions to Mars & beyond.â
Way More Complex Than The Previous One’s
And todayâs sortie was significantly more complex than Ingenuityâs previous two flights, which took place on Monday (April 19) and Thursday (April 22), respectively. On its historic, 39-second debut hopâthe first powered, controlled flight for an aircraft on a world beyond Earthâthe solar-powered helicopter went straight up and down and reached a maximum altitude of about 16.5 feet (5 meters).
Ingenuity went about that high on flight number two but stayed up for nearly 52 seconds and moved side-to-side a total of 13 feet (4 m).
âFor the third flight, weâre targeting the same altitude, but we are going to open things up a bit, too, increasing our max airspeed from 0.5 meters per second to 2 meters per second (about 4.5 mph) as we head 50 meters (164 feet) north and return to land at Wright Brothers Field,â Ingenuity chief pilot HÃ¥vard Grip, of NASAâs Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California,Â wrote in a blog post FridayÂ (April 23). (The Ingenuity team named the chopperâs flight zone after aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville Wright.)
Commands Been Executed Perfectly
âWeâre planning for a total flight time of about 80 seconds and a total distance of 100 meters (330 feet),â he added.
At around 10:15 a.m. EDT (1415 GMT) today, data began streaming in to mission control at JPL confirming that Ingenuity had executed those commands successfully.
Communications to and from Ingenuity are relayed via NASAâs Perseverance rover, which is serving a key support and observation role for the helicopter. The two robots landed together inside Marsâ 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, and Ingenuity deployed from the car-sized roverâs belly on April 3, kicking off the current month-long flight campaign.
That campaign is designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars, which has an atmosphere just 1% as dense as that of Earth at sea level. Ingenuityâs success could pave the way for theÂ extensive use of rotorcraftÂ on future Red Planet missions, with Mars helicopters serving as scouts for rovers and also gathering data themselves, NASA officials have said.
Not For Any Science Work, But For Technology Demostration
Ingenuity is not doing any science work; itâs a technology demonstration, after all. But the helicopter does have a 13-megapixel color camera, which has snapped epic, unprecedented photos of Perseveranceâs tracks from above.
The Ingenuity team hopes to fly two more times before the flight window closes in early May. And these last two sorties will likely be âreally adventurous,â Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung, also of JPL, said during a news conference earlier this month, stressing that she and her colleagues want to push the little aircraftâs limits.
That will be it for Ingenuity. Thereâs no negotiating a longer flight window, because Perseverance needs to start focusing on its own science mission soon. That mission has two main tasks: hunting for signs of ancientÂ Mars lifeÂ inside Jezero, which hosted a lake and river delta long ago, and collecting samples for future return to Earth.