The Mars helicopter Ingenuity is gearing up for its 15th flight this weekend, beginning a journey that will take it back to its landing location and reunite it with its rover buddy Perseverance.
The flight scheduled for today, Saturday, November 6, will take Ingenuity back in the direction of the Wright Brothers Field where it took its first flights, by the Octavia E. Butler landing site. The helicopter team reports that they expect it will take between four and seven flights for the helicopter to return to its original landing site. Ingenuity will rejoin Perseverance at the Séítah region before heading off to explore the Jezero river delta.
Since its deployment, Ingenuity has spent 25 minutes in the air and traveled a total of 2883 meters over its 14 flights. Ingenuity’s previous flight, number 14, was its first successful flight at a higher rotor speed of 2,700 RPM. This higher rotor speed is necessary to counteract seasonal changes on Mars which are causing the already low atmospheric density to drop even lower. These higher rotor speeds are risky because they hadn’t been attempted in the previous testing on Earth, but with the successful flight on October 24, it looks like Ingenuity will be able to continue its exploration of Mars from the air.
The plan is now laid out for the helicopter’s next steps, as described by Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity Team Lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “Flight #15 will return Ingenuity back to the Raised Ridges region, imaged in Flight #10. In this flight the helicopter will traverse 1,332 feet (406 meters) during 130 seconds of flight, traveling at 11.1 mph (5 meters per second) groundspeed. We’ll capture color return-to-earth (RTE) high resolution (13MP) images, one post-takeoff pointed to the SW, and nine pointed toward the NW along the flight path. Nominal altitude for the flight is expected to be 39.3 feet (12 meters) above ground level.”
The team is also considering whether to update Ingenuity’s flight software in the near future, in order to give the helicopter even more sophisticated navigation capabilities.
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