Skip to main content

Mars helicopter keeps on flying as it approaches second anniversary

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been on Mars for almost two years and the high-tech contraption is still in good enough shape to get airborne.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the NASA unit overseeing the latest Mars mission that also includes the Perseverance rover, tweeted a GIF (below) showing the view from Ingenuity as it buzzed above the martian surface on Wednesday, January 11.

#MarsHelicopter keeps exploring the Martian skies!
Ingenuity recently completed Flight 39. The rotorcraft stayed aloft for about 79 seconds, traveling 460 feet (140.25 meters) at an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) and returning to its original take-off location.

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) January 12, 2023

During Ingenuity’s 39th flight, the aircraft stayed in the air for around 79 seconds. It flew a distance of 460 feet (140.25 meters) and reached an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) before returning to its launch location.

Ingenuity didn’t break any records during its latest flight, nor did it perform any particular tasks, but it confirmed to JPL operators that the plucky machine is still in excellent working order and all set for further missions to assist the Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity and Perseverance arrived on the red planet in spectacular fashion in February 2021, and the helicopter took its first historic hover two months later in April, becoming the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on a planet other than Earth.

Its longest time in the air is 169.5 seconds, achieved on flight 12 in August 2021, while the longest distance covered so far is an impressive 2,325 feet (708.9 meters), achieved in April 2022. It’s also reached speeds as fast as 12.3 mph (19.8 kph) and flown as high as 46 feet (14 meters) during its numerous trips.

The aircraft was originally sent to Mars to simply test the viability of such a device in an atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s, meaning it faced a greater challenge to get airborne as lift is harder to achieve there. But after nailing the first flight, and several thereafter, the Ingenuity team started using the helicopter’s down-facing camera to assist the ground-based Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity did this by capturing images of the terrain, enabling the rover team to plan safer and more efficient routes for its vehicle as it set about exploring areas of scientific interest.

NASA is now considering building a more advanced version of Ingenuity that could be used as part of the Mars Sample Return mission that will endeavor to return martian dust and rock samples to Earth in the early 2030s.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter sets two flight records on Mars
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, set two flight records on its most recent flight.

Taking to the Martian skies on Sunday, April 2, Ingenuity buzzed along at a record speed of 6.5 meters per second (15 mph), comfortably beating its previous record of 6 meters per second (13 mph) set in February.

Read more
NASA’s plucky Mars helicopter eyes another flight record
Mars helicopter

NASA’s plucky Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, is about to embark on its 49th flight on the red planet.

The diminutive drone-like aircraft arrived on Mars with the Perseverance rover in February 2021.

Read more
Perseverance and Ingenuity play a game of tag across Mars
Perseverance looks towards the Delta on Sol 419, capturing this image with its Right Navigation Camera.

The Perseverance rover is currently trundling its way across Mars' Jezero Crater, on its way to explore an exciting location called the delta. It's the site of an ancient river delta, and scientists are looking forward to scouring this area for two particular reasons: firstly, because if there ever was life on Mars, then this is one of the most likely locations we could find evidence of it, and secondly, because it should be possible to find rocks from miles away that were carried to this location by the river long ago.

But it takes a long time for a little rover to travel across Mars' rocky surface, so Perseverance has been making slow progress as it makes the climb up the delta and toward the river deposits the scientists are so interested in. Now, though, the rover has a sidekick to help it, as the Ingenuity helicopter has arrived to join the rover and scout ahead to find the best path forward.

Read more