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Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Celebrates 50 Flights, Tackles Riskier Terrain

Ingenuity on Mars

NASA's Ingenuity surpasses expectations, providing invaluable data for future Mars missions.

Ingenuity, NASA’s Mars Helicopter, reaches its 50th flight, setting new records and exploring hazardous terrain, while providing essential data for future Mars expeditions.

Ingenuity’s Milestone 50th Flight

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently marked its 50th flight on the Red Planet, traversing 1,057.09 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds and achieving a new altitude record of 59 feet (18 meters). The historic rotorcraft landed near the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) Belva Crater on April 13.

Next Steps for the Mars Helicopter

Following this milestone, the Ingenuity team plans to perform another repositioning flight before exploring the Fall River Pass region of Jezero Crater. Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, likened the ongoing experiments to the Wright brothers’ continued work after their iconic first flight in 1903.

Ingenuity’s Two-Year Anniversary Approaching

Originally designed as a technology demonstration limited to five flights, Ingenuity has exceeded expectations and transitioned into an operations demonstration. It landed on Mars in February 2021, and its first flight took place on April 19, 2021.

Ingenuity’s Contributions to Future Mars Expeditions

Ingenuity’s flights offer a unique perspective on Mars, providing imagery that has proven useful for the Perseverance team. Engineers are using flight data from Ingenuity to work on designs for future Mars helicopters, such as those proposed for the Mars Sample Return campaign’s Sample Recovery Helicopters.

Challenging Terrain and Risks

Since leaving Jezero Crater’s relatively flat floor on January 19, Ingenuity has set new speed and altitude records of 14.5 mph (6.5 meters per second) and 59 feet (18 meters). As it navigates increasingly rugged and uncharted terrain, landing in hazardous areas, the helicopter must overcome obstacles like regional dust events and the deep chill of winter.

Ingenuity’s Need for Increased Flight Frequency

Ingenuity relies on the Perseverance rover to communicate with mission controllers. To remain within electronic earshot of the rover, Ingenuity will need to fly more frequently in the coming days, as Perseverance’s AutoNav capability allows it to travel hundreds of meters each day.

Ingenuity’s Achievements and the Future

Despite being built with off-the-shelf components, Ingenuity has far exceeded its expected lifetime, flying for over 89 minutes and more than 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers). As some components show wear and terrain becomes more challenging, the Ingenuity team is aware that the mission will eventually end, but the exact timeline remains uncertain.

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