Skip to main content

Mars helicopter Ingenuity powers through its 21st flight

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity continues to perform beyond all expectations, having recently completed its 21st flight. The tiny NASA helicopter was originally designed for just five flights, but to the delight of all it has shaken off dust storms and handled seasonal changes, and it is continuing to operate and explore the red planet from the air.

NASA announced that the helicopter had aced its most recent flight yesterday, on Friday, March 11. “#MarsHelicopter can’t be stopped!” NASA JPL wrote on Twitter. “Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet. The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters at a speed of 3.85 meters per second and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds.”

#MarsHelicopter can’t be stopped! Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet. The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters at a speed of 3.85 meters per second and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds.

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 11, 2022

Ingenuity is currently performing a series of flights to take it on a journey back to Perseverance. The helicopter had headed away from the rover in the last few months, exploring nearby areas of the Jezero crater. But now, it is on its way back so the pair can move on toward the Jezero delta. This is the site of an ancient river delta and is a particularly exciting area to explore. That’s because millions of years ago it would have had warm, shallow water, which is the ideal conditions for the formation of life. If there ever was life on Mars, the delta is an excellent place to look for evidence of it.

Additionally, the delta is handy to explore because the river that once ran there would have carried rocks from all over the region with it, and some of those rocks might have been deposited in the delta and still be there. That gives geologists the chance to see rock samples from all over the region without the rover having to travel to them. Although samples aren’t ideal when they are removed from their geological context, this is still an exciting opportunity to see a variety of rock types all in one location.

Ingenuity will be helping the Perseverance rover by scouting ahead and identifying driving routes that Perseverance can follow. This could potentially help Perseverance to drive both safer and faster, as obstacles can be identified and avoided ahead of time.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Curiosity rover battles up a 23-degree slope in its exploration of Mars
Curiosity Rover

The Curiosity rover is slowly making its way up Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall mountain on Mars. Mountains are useful to study as their steep slopes can reveal layers of material laid down over time, like a geological time capsule. But just like heaving up a mountain is a challenge for humans, it can be tricky for rovers too. Curiosity recently took on a particularly steep and slippery slope, marking its most challenging climb to date.

How difficult terrain is for a rover to pass depends on a number of factors, including how steep it is, how slippery the sand is, and what obstacles such as boulders or sharp rocks are present. This ascent, which the rover tackled through May and June, had all of the above including a 23-degree incline. “If you’ve ever tried running up a sand dune on a beach – and that’s essentially what we were doing – you know it’s hard, but there were boulders in there as well,” said Amy Hale, a Curiosity rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in a statement.

Read more
Perseverance rover finds organic molecules in Mars’ Jezero Crater
mars 2020 perseverance rover

One of the biggest aims of Mars research right now is trying to figure out if life ever existed on Mars. Given how dry and inhospitable Mars is today, scientists are pretty certain that there's nothing living there currently. But millions of years ago, Mars could have looked a lot more like Earth, with plentiful surface water in rivers and lakes. Now, research focuses on using the instruments on rovers like the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers to try and look for evidence of ancient life on the planet.

Recently, researchers used data from Perseverance's SHERLOC instrument, a camera and spectrometer used to detect minerals and organic molecules, to confirm the discovery of a variety of organic molecules in Mars' Jezero Crater. Similar findings have been made by the Curiosity Rover in the Gale Crater, but these are some of the first indications of the finding in this other location.

Read more
NASA restores contact with Mars helicopter after nine weeks of silence
Mars helicopter

The last time NASA had contact with Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter was flying in the air on April 26.

Ten weeks on, the Mars team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California has announced that it’s restored contact with the aircraft, and everything appears to be in order.

Read more