Skip to main content

NASA’s Mars helicopter aiming for two records on next flight

NASA’s diminutive Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has so far exceeded expectations, handling the red planet’s tough conditions with apparent ease during five separate test flights in the space of a month.

The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, is now preparing to send Ingenuity on its sixth flight since its historic maiden hover on April 19.

Having completed the technology demonstration phase that proved Ingenuity’s ability to achieve flight in Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere — on one mission staying aloft for nearly two minutes while flying 266 meters — the team is now moving to the operations demonstration phase that will seek to learn more about how such flights can assist future exploration of Mars and other planets.

Faster, longer

The sixth flight will see the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter ascend to 10 meters (33 feet) before flying southwest for around 150 meters (492 feet). At that point, the machine will use an onboard camera to acquire color imagery of an area of interest to researchers while it continues to fly south for around 20 meters (66 feet).

“Stereo imagery of the sand ripples and outcrops of bright rocks at the site will help demonstrate the value of an aerial perspective for future missions,” JPL said on its website.

After completing its image collection, the helicopter will fly northeast for 50 meters (164 feet) to a new landing location.

JPL notes that during its sixth flight, Ingenuity, which flies autonomously after receiving instructions from the team, will be pushed to a record groundspeed of 9 mph (4 meters per second) while staying aloft for 140 seconds — a period longer than any of its previous missions.

“It is also the first time the helicopter will land at an airfield which it did not survey from the air during a previous mission,” JPL said, explaining that this time around, the team is relying on imagery gathered by the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

JPL is expected to release more information about the flight schedule any day now, and we’ll update here when we hear about it. In the meantime, dust off your 3D specs and check out this immersive footage of a recent Ingenuity flight on Mars.

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)…
NASA, Boeing delay Starliner’s first crewed flight again
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

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

The first crewed test flight of Boeing Space’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft has been delayed yet again, but this time it’s not the result of an issue with the vehicle itself.

Read more
Meet NASA’s trio of mini moon rovers set to launch next year
Part of NASA’s CADRE technology demonstration, three small rovers that will explore the Moon together show off their ability to drive as a team autonomously – without explicit commands from engineers – during a test in a clean room at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in December 2023.

NASA is ramping up its plans for exploring the moon, not only in terms of preparing to send astronauts there but also rovers. There's the VIPER rover, which will search for water around the lunar south pole, and now NASA is introducing a trio of mini rovers called CADRE, or Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration. These will work together as a team to map the lunar surface, testing the possibilities of using rovers in groups for future exploration.

The rovers, developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are just the size of a carry-on suitcase. They are designed to move independently but share data so they can cover more ground than a single rover could. They'll have to work over a lunar day, which is about two weeks, to map out features on the surface and look below ground using radar.

Read more
The NASA Mars helicopter’s work is not done, it turns out
The Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars, in an image taken by the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity recently made its 50th flight.

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has been grounded since January 18 after suffering damage to one of its rotors as it came in to land.

The team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which oversees the Ingenuity mission, celebrated the plucky helicopter for achieving way more flights on the red planet than anyone had expected -- 72 in all -- and becoming the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet.

Read more