Skip to main content

NASA’s Mars drone nails its first flight of 2022

Following several delays due to dust storms, NASA’s record-setting Ingenuity Mars helicopter has finally taken its first flight of 2022.

The 4-pound, 19-inch-tall rotorcraft flew at an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) for almost 100 seconds and covered a distance of about 203 feet (62 meters) during its latest flight, the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the current Mars mission, confirmed on Tuesday.

After some dusty weather delays, it’s time to celebrate the #MarsHelicopter’s first flight of 2022! The rotorcraft flew for the 19th time on the Red Planet, soaring for 99.98 seconds over ~62 meters. pic.twitter.com/akSWkbPuST

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) February 8, 2022

For its 19th flight since arriving on Mars with the Perseverance rover in February 2021, the diminutive drone flew from a spot in the South Séítah basin toward the Jezero river delta. Imagery captured by its onboard cameras will enable the mission team to plan upcoming routes for Perseverance, which is heading to the delta as part of its ongoing search for evidence of ancient microbial life on the faraway planet.

Ingenuity was supposed to take its first flight of the year in early January, but a dust storm on the Martian surface prompted the mission team to suspend the plan.

As Mars features a thinner atmosphere and a less powerful gravitational pull, tiny particles that get kicked up by Martian winds can create dust storms so fierce they can last for weeks and even cover the entire planet. Indeed, Martian dust is an issue that could also impact future crewed missions to the planet.

For Ingenuity, airborne dust results in a reduced amount of sunlight reaching its solar panels, which are vital for charging the batteries that power the flying machine.

But that’s not the only problem. The dust hanging in the air is heated by sunlight and warms the surrounding atmosphere. This further reduces the density of the already-thin air, making Ingenuity’s flight conditions even more challenging if were to attempt to get airborne.

The good news is that Perseverance is carrying instruments able to detect the storms, enabling the team at JPL to protect Ingenuity from challenging flight conditions.

Ingenuity made history in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet. Its longest single flight to date took it 2,051 (625 meters) across the Martian surface. Images captured by the aircraft’s onboard camera have helped the Perseverance team to scout locations and plan safe routes for the ground-based rover, while data from its numerous test flights will also help engineers to design even more advanced aircraft for future missions.

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)…
The first views of the eclipse are coming in, and they’re stunning
Still from the NASA livestream of the total eclipse in Russellville, Arkansas on March 8, 2024.

Eclipse mania is gripping swaths of the U.S. as today is the day that a total solar eclipse passes across the country from Texas to Maine. The eclipse began in Mexico at 2:07 p.m. ET and is sweeping up and across the U.S., with plenty of excellent views despite concerns about the weather in many places.

NASA is live-streaming views of the eclipse captured from various locations along the path of totality, which is a great way to enjoy the event if you are outside the region where it is visible.

Read more
These 3 companies are developing NASA’s new moon vehicle
An artist’s concept design of NASA’s Lunar Terrain Vehicle.

NASA has big plans for the moon -- not only sending people back to the moon for the first time in over 50 years but also having them investigate the exciting south pole region, where water is thought to be available. The plan is not just for astronauts to visit for a day or two, but to have them stay on the moon for weeks at a time, exploring the surrounding area. And to explore, they can't just travel on foot -- they'll need a new moon buggy.

Today, Wednesday, April 3, NASA announced the three companies developing its new lunar vehicle: Intuitive Machines, Lunar Outpost, and Venturi Astrolab. They'll each develop a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) that can carry astronauts from their landing site across the moon's surface, allowing them to range further and reach more areas of interest.

Read more
NASA reveals target date for first crewed Starliner flight
Starliner

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. Boeing / Boeing

NASA and Boeing are making the final preparations for the long-awaited and much-delayed maiden crewed flight of the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

Read more