Mars’s tiniest aerial explorer, the NASA helicopter Ingenuity, is getting ready to make its 21st flight, on its way back to reunite with the Perseverance rover. NASA announced that the flight would take place no earlier than today, March 5, as the helicopter works its way back to the rover so it can act as a scout for upcoming exploration of the Jezero crater delta. Being able to scout ahead of the rover could help Perseverance both avoid any potential obstacles and locate any particular areas of scientific interest as it continues its mission to search for evidence of ancient life on Mars.
#MarsHelicopter is moving on to the next flight! The rotorcraft is attempting Flight 21 no earlier than March 5. This will be one of a few trips required to reach a staging area near the base of Jezero Crater’s delta to scout ahead for @NASAPersevere’s planning and science teams. pic.twitter.com/HFDoAM1v0F
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 5, 2022
This follows last week’s successful flight 20, in which the helicopter was in the air for 130.3 seconds and covered 391 meters, at a speed of 4.4 meters per second.
The helicopter is currently on a series of flights that will return it back to its rover partner Perseverance. Ingenuity had headed off to scout a region called South Séítah, but now it is on its way back to where it first took off, at the Wright Brothers Field at the Octavia E. Butler landing site. The idea is for Ingenuity to rejoin Perseverance, so it can act as a scout to look ahead of the rover’s path and get the lie of the terrain. Engineers estimated it would take between four and seven flights for Ingenuity to make it back to the landing site, in a process that began in November last year.
Flight 21, to be performed shortly, will be the seventh flight on this return leg, as this mini road trip has had its share of challenges. A major dust storm in the area lead to one flight being delayed, and the helicopter then had to shake the dust off itself to continue. The changes in Martian seasons also pose a challenge for the helicopter, as lower air density requires it to spin its blades faster. But Ingenuity has met all of the challenges that have been thrown at it so far, so hopefully, it will soon make it safely back to Perseverance to continue in the next phase of Mars exploration.
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