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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter travels 160 meters in 8th Mars flight

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has completed its eighth flight over the Martian surface as the team continues to explore how the aircraft can assist future space missions.

“Another successful flight for Ingenuity!” the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, said in a tweet on Tuesday. The message also included an image of the helicopter’s shadow as it passed over the ground during its flight earlier this week.

JPL said that during its latest flight, Ingenuity, which made history in April when it became the first aircraft to perform powered flight on another planet, stayed in the air for 77.4 seconds and covered a distance of 160 meters before touching down at a new spot some 133 meters from NASA’s Perseverance rover.

Another successful flight for Ingenuity! The#MarsHelicopter completed its 8th flight on Monday. It flew for 77.4 seconds and traveled 160 meters to a new landing spot about 133.5 meters from @NASAPersevere, capturing its own shadow in this image.

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 22, 2021

After a quick hover on its historic maiden flight to confirm the helicopter’s ability to handle Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere, the team at JPL started beaming flight plans to Ingenuity to send the 4-pound, 19-inch-high machine on more ambitious trips across the Martian surface.

The greatest distance the helicopter has so far traveled in a single mission is 266 meters during its fourth flight on April 29, while the longest time it’s stayed airborne is 139.9 seconds on its sixth mission on May 23. Ingenuity has managed to reach speeds of 4 meters per second — about 9 mph — and up to now has flown as high as 10 meters.

NASA believes that by attaching high-resolution cameras to a more advanced version of Ingenuity, such an aircraft could assist future rover missions to Mars and other planets. Tasks could include searching out safe, unobstructed routes for a rover to take, allowing machines like Perseverance to move across the Martian surface at a faster speed as it moves between research sites. A flying machine could also explore sites featuring terrain that’s just too rough and hazardous for a ground-based vehicle to reach.

NASA’s Mars helicopter has already exceeded expectations, with the team at JPL eager to keep sending flight plans to Ingenuity to test the impressive aircraft to its limits.

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Trevor Mogg
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