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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter nails seventh flight on Mars

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, recently completed its seventh successful flight on the faraway planet.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced the news on Tuesday, June 8, though didn’t immediately say when the flight took place.

“Another successful flight,” JPL said in a tweet, adding, “Mars helicopter completed its seventh flight and second within its operations demo phase. It flew for 62.8 seconds and traveled ~106 meters south to a new landing spot. Ingenuity also took this black-and-white navigation photo during flight.”

Another successful flight 👏#MarsHelicopter completed its 7th flight and second within its operations demo phase. It flew for 62.8 seconds and traveled ~106 meters south to a new landing spot. Ingenuity also took this black-and-white navigation photo during flight.

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 8, 2021

More details about the specific nature of the flight will likely be revealed soon. However, the information released in the tweet confirms that Ingenuity’s latest flight wasn’t its longest in terms of either time or distance. The helicopter’s sixth flight, on May 22, for example, lasted 140 seconds, while its fourth flight, on April 30, saw the flying machine cover a distance of 266 meters.

According to a flight preview released by JPL last week, Ingenuity will have landed in a different spot from where it took off, marking only the second time for it not to return to its original launch location.

The team used data captured by NASA’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) satellite camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to scan the landing area to ensure it was relatively flat and free of any potentially troublesome obstacles.

The successful flight comes a couple of weeks after Ingenuity experienced its most precarious trip to date when a malfunction caused the aircraft to wobble uncontrollably in the air. The team traced the error to an issue with Ingenuity’s motion and stability smarts.

JPL is yet to confirm that it has successfully fixed the issue, though the fact that it makes no mention of any flight anomaly in its initial — albeit brief — report of Ingenuity’s seventh flight suggests the problem has been successfully resolved.

Ingenuity made history in April when it became the first aircraft to make controlled, powered flight on another planet — no mean feat considering Mars’ ultrathin atmosphere that makes flight more challenging.

JPL is now testing Ingenuity with different flight scenarios while also using its onboard camera to see how the aircraft, or a more advanced version of it, can assist future missions to Mars and other planets.

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Trevor Mogg
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