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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter sets two flight records on Mars

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.

The helicopter also reached an altitude of 52.5 feet (16 meters), beating its previous record of 46 feet (14 meters) achieved in December.

The accomplishment is further confirmation of the impressive work that went into creating the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter, which has now completed 49 flights on the red planet.

When Ingenuity reached Mars with the Perseverance rover in February 2021, the main aim of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — home to the team overseeing the mission — was to find out if it was capable of powered, controlled flight in an atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s.

After entering the history books with its first flight in April 2021, the team grew in confidence, sending Ingenuity on longer, higher, and speedier flights over the rocky surface of Mars.

The aircraft’s flights are all autonomous, piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms created by the JPL team.

Ingenuity performed so well that JPL started to use its downward-facing camera to gather data to help the Perseverance team find the safest and most efficient routes as the wheel-based rover made its way between locations of interest in search of evidence of ancient microbial life.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Ingenuity, as JPL engineers have had to solve several technical issues that have impacted the flying machine over the last couple of years.

Now approaching its 50th flight, which is set to take place on Wednesday, the helicopter has surpassed NASA’s expectations, ensuring that we’ll see more advanced versions of Ingenuity buzzing over the Martian surface in the coming years.

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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)…
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