Mars helicopter Ingenuity passes fourth flight and has a new mission

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen here about 13 feet (3.9 meters) from the rover. This image was taken by the WASTON camera on the rover’s robotic arm on April 6, 2021, the 46th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
After a small stumble, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has completed its fourth flight successfully. At 10:49 a.m. ET (7:49 a.m. PT) on Friday, April 30, it took off from the Martian surface and rose to a height of 5 meters. It then flew 133 meters south before returning to its original position and landing, spending a total of 117 seconds in the air — the longest amount of time so far.

The flight had originally been planned for Thursday, April 29, but a software issue prevented it from taking off. Engineers on the ground created an update for the helicopter’s software and sent it to Ingenuity, which was then able to take off.

Ingenuity was also able to capture images of Mars from the air using its black and white navigation camera. And the Perseverance rover, stationed nearby, captured the helicopter in flight using its Mastcam-Z camera as well.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (upper right) using its left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover’s mast. This is one still frame from a sequence captured by the camera while taking video. This image was acquired on Apr. 30, 2021 (Sol 69) at the Local Mean Solar Time of 12:33:27. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS
With this fourth test flight complete, NASA is declaring the Ingenuity technology demonstration mission a success, proving that flight on another planet is possible. Now, the helicopter will move onto a new mission, called its operations demonstration phase, which will explore how aerial craft could be used to support future rover missions, such as by identifying safe driving routes.

“The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. “Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team’s near-term science goals.”

Rovers must move very slowly over the Martian surface to avoid obstacles, so they can only explore a relatively small area. But with support from an aerial craft, which can move much more quickly and cover a wider area, rovers could more accurately hone in on areas of scientific interest.

“We have so appreciated the support provided by the Perseverance rover team during our technology demonstration phase,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “Now we have a chance to pay it forward, demonstrating for future robotic and even crewed missions the benefits of having a partner nearby that can provide a different perspective – one from the sky. We are going to take this opportunity and run with it — and fly with it.”


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