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NASA’s Mars helicopter aces longest flight in almost a year

NASA’s Mars helicopter recently aced its 43rd flight, one that turned out to be its longest in almost a year.

During the February 11 flight, Ingenuity traveled 1,280 feet (390 meters) across the martian surface for 146 seconds, reaching a maximum altitude of 40 feet (12 meters) while reaching a top speed of 8.9 mph (4 meters per second). The flight was a repositioning mission in preparation for providing further assistance to NASA’s Perseverance rover as it continues to explore Jezero Crater.

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the current Mars mission, tweeted about the helicopter’s 43rd flight just a couple of days before the second anniversary of Perseverance and Ingenuity’s spectacular arrival on the red planet:

Ingenuity has completed Flight 43 – its longest flight in nearly a year! 🎉

The #MarsHelicopter traveled 1,280 ft (390 m) across the Martian surface for 145.99 seconds at a max. altitude of 40 ft (12 m).

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) February 16, 2023

Ingenuity’s 43rd flight was its longest — in terms of both time in the air and distance covered — since April 29 last year when it completed a mission that lasted 153 seconds across a distance of 421 meters.

The furthest it’s traveled to date is 708.9 meters in a flight on April 8, 2022, and the longest it’s stayed airborne is 169.5 seconds in a trip taken on August 16, 2021.

During its two years on Mars, Ingenuity has exceeded expectations, flying way more missions than originally planned, while also surviving a bitterly cold martian winter. A downward-facing camera on Ingenuity has been gathering images of the martian terrain, data that’s enabled the Perseverance team to plan the best routes for the ground-based rover as it continues to explore the planet for evidence of ancient microbial life.

NASA engineers have been so impressed with Ingenuity’s performance that they plan to build more advanced versions of the flying machine for future Mars missions. One of them could be the Mars Sample Return mission in the 2030s, which is exploring the possibility of using an Ingenuity-like helicopter to collect samples of martian material already gathered by Perseverance. The samples would then be transferred to a spacecraft and returned to Earth for scientific analysis.

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