Skip to main content

NASA’s Mars helicopter has just flown faster than ever before

Just a week after setting a new altitude record on Mars, NASA’s impressive Ingenuity helicopter has flown faster than ever before, reaching a speed of 17.9 mph (8 meters per second) during its 60th flight. Its previous record was 15 mph (6.5 m/s) in a flight earlier this year.

Ingenuity also covered 1,116 feet (340 meters) in 133 seconds at an altitude of 53 feet (16 meters) during its speediest flight across the Martian surface.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is overseeing the Ingenuity mission, shared news of the flight record on Tuesday in a post on social media:

60 flights – and another new record!

Ingenuity completed is Flight 60, breaking a groundspeed record by hitting ~17.9 mph (8 m/s). The mighty #MarsHelicopter covered 1,116 ft (340 m) in 133 seconds at an altitude of 53 ft (16 m).

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) September 26, 2023

It’s been a great month for the JPL team as it seeks to push its valiant Ingenuity helicopter to its limits. Just a week ago, the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter set another record when it reached an altitude of 20 meters, beating its previous record by 6 meters.

But its mission isn’t all about setting records. The team sent Ingenuity to Mars with the Perseverance rover, with the pair reaching the red planet in February 2021. The drone-like flying machine arrived as a technology demonstration, with the team keen to see if such a contraption could become the first to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet.

In April 2021, it did exactly that, entering the history books as it rose just a few meters above the dusty Martian surface before carefully returning for a soft landing. That flight gave the team confidence to push the drone a little further with every subsequent flight.

It proved so adept at handling Mars’ super-thin atmosphere that aerial imagery captured by Ingenuity has been used by the Perseverance team to plan safe and efficient routes for the rover as it moves between locations of interest in search of evidence of ancient microbial life. The flying machine’s imagery from such a unique perspective could also prove useful for future crewed missions to the distant planet.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, as the helicopter has experienced a number of technical issues along the way. Encouragingly, despite the distance between engineers on Earth and Mars, they were all resolved.

The success of Ingenuity means NASA is likely to build more advanced designs for future missions to Mars and perhaps other celestial bodies far beyond.

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)…
How one NASA lander decoded secrets lying beneath the surface of Mars
Dust blankets the solar panels of the Mars Insight lander, shortly before its demise.

Dust blankets the solar panels of the Mars Insight lander, shortly before its demise. NASA

The life of the Mars InSight lander came to an end last year as its solar panels were covered with dust and its power supply slowly dwindled away. After four years of research and data collection, NASA officially declared the end of the mission in December 2022.

Read more
NASA’s Mars rover uses its self-driving smarts to navigate toughest route
A composite image showing Perseverance’s path through a dense section of boulders.

A composite image, annotated at JPL using visualization software, showing Perseverance’s path through a dense section of boulders. The pale blue line indicates the course of the center of the front wheel hubs, while darker blue lines show the paths of the rover’s six wheels. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, has used its self-driving smarts to successfully navigate its most challenging route since arriving on the planet two-and-a-half years ago. Even better, its advanced technology meant it took just a third of the time that it would’ve taken other NASA Mars rovers.

Read more
NASA’s Frank Rubio has just done something very unusual in space
Frank Rubio aboard the space station.

Frank Rubio aboard the space station. NASA

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio marked one whole year in space on Thursday.

Read more