NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has now flown a mile across Mars

NASA’s impressive Mars helicopter has now clocked up a mile of flight across 10 separate missions. Ingenuity reached the milestone during its latest flight on Saturday, July 24.

The space agency’s team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, said Ingenuity’s 10th and most recent flight was the most challenging yet.

Just over two months after a successful maiden flight over the Martian surface that saw it become the first aircraft to perform powered flight on another planet, Ingenuity’s latest trip saw it climb 12 meters (39 feet) above the ground — two meters higher than the aircraft’s previous altitude record.

The flight plan for Ingenuity's next Martian adventure.
The flight plan for Ingenuity’s 10th Mars flight, including the 10 waypoints. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Saturday’s mission also saw the 4-pound, 19-inch-high aircraft fly between 10 waypoints for around 165 seconds — about the same length of time as Flight 9, which is its longest to date.

Flight 10 targeted an area called the Raised Ridges, named for its geographic features, JPL’s Teddy Tzanetos explained in a post.

The helicopter flew to different waypoints and used an onboard camera to capture the same part of the Raised Ridges from two different angles. The JPL team plans to combine data from the two images to generate a single stereo image.

Ingenuity also took images from other waypoints in the flight, again capturing the same spot from two different angles for the creation of more stereo images. The team will then examine the images to determine if the area warrants further exploration using the Perseverance rover, which is also part of the current Mars mission.

This is exactly the kind of work for which Ingenuity was designed, in other words, exploring a location from just above the ground to help scientists decide whether it’s worth sending along a ground rover to conduct more thorough research. Data from Ingenuity’s onboard cameras can also help NASA to map a safe, obstacle-free route for the rover when it’s directed toward a new location.

At the end of Flight 10, the aircraft turned northeast and touched down on its seventh airfield, around 95 meters (310 feet) west of Airfield 6.

Offering an overview of Ingenuity’s work to date, Tzanetos said the flying machine has now experienced 107 sols (Martian days) since deployment from Perseverance, “76 sols beyond the original technology demonstration mission it was designed for.”

The helicopter has also successfully dealt with two software updates to solve a flight issue and allow it to capture color imagery and has so far taken 43 13-megapixel images.

Reaching a total of one mile of flight across 10 separate trips is another success, with the team’s expectations at the start of this groundbreaking mission now easily surpassed.

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