NASA’s 50th Mars Helicopter Flight – “We’re Not in Martian Kansas Anymore”

In this illustration, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity Helicopter stands on the surface of the Red Planet while NASA’s Perseverance rover rolls in (partially visible at left). It completed its 50th flight on April 13, 2023, covering more than 1,057 feet and reaching a new altitude record of 59 feet. Initially designed for just five flights, Ingenuity has exceeded expectations, providing invaluable flight data and images for future Mars missions. While some components show signs of wear, the Ingenuity mission continues to push the boundaries of technology and exploration on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The history-making orbiter has recently been negotiating some of the most dangerous terrain encountered on the Red Planet.

Mars Helicopter marked its 50th flight on April 13, 2023, achieving new altitude and distance records. Despite facing challenging terrain and increased frequency of flights, Ingenuity continues to provide valuable data for future Mars missions.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has completed its 50th flight on Mars. The first aircraft on another world reached the half-century mark on April 13, traveling over 1,057.09 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds. The helicopter also achieved a new altitude record of 59 feet (18 meters) before alighting near the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) “Belva Crater.”

Ingenuity at Airfield D

Ingenuity at Airfield D: This image of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument of the Perseverance rover on June 15, 2021, the 114th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The location, “Airfield D” (the fourth airfield), is just east of the “Séítah” geologic unit. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

With Flight 50 in the mission logbook, the helicopter team plans to perform another repositioning flight before exploring the “Fall River Pass” region of Jezero Crater.

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments well after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to pursue and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history when it achieved the first powered and controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021. Just under two years later, on April 13, 2023, it completed its 50th flight. Here are some highlights from helicopter flights on the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/[{” attribute=””>JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet in February 2021 attached to the belly of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and will soon mark the two-year anniversary of its first flight, which took place on April 19, 2021. Designed as a technology demonstration that would fly no more than five times, the helicopter was intended to prove powered, controlled flight on another planet was possible. But Ingenuity exceeded expectations and transitioned into being an operations demonstration.

Every time Ingenuity goes airborne, it covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Imagery from the helicopter has not only demonstrated how aircraft could serve as forward scouts for future planetary expeditions, but it has even come in handy for the Perseverance team.

Teddy Zanetos at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory gives an update on the agency’s innovative Mars Helicopter and discusses how it will inspire future atmospheric exploration of the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By testing the limits of the helicopter, engineers are collecting flight data that can be used by engineers working on potential future Mars helicopter designs. This includes the people who designed the proposed Mars sample return campaign Sample recovery helicopters.

More dangerous terrain

Since leaving the relatively flat confines of the Jezero Crater floor on Jan. 19, Ingenuity has flown 11 times, setting new altitude and speed records of 14.5 mph (6.5 m/s) and 59 feet (18 m) along the way.

Although the deep winter cold and regional dust events (which can block sunlight from reaching a helicopter’s solar panel) have abated, creativity continues. built out at night. As a result, the Helicopter base station The rover has to look for the helicopter signal each morning at the time when Creativity is expected to wake up. And when the helicopter flies it now has to navigate rugged and relatively uncharted terrain, landing in areas that can be fraught with danger.

NASA’s Mars Ingenuity Helicopter is seen here at the launch point of its 47th voyage to the surface of Mars. Video captured by the Mastcam-Z imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on March 9, 2023. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

“We’re not in Martian Kansas anymore,” said Josh Anderson, innovation operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We’re flying over the dry remains of an ancient river dotted with dunes, boulders and boulders, surrounded by hills we can eat for lunch. And while we’ve recently upgraded the onboard navigation software to help locate safe airports, every flight is still a sham.”

Frequent flyer

Beyond taking on more challenging terrain, Ingenuity will also fly at a higher rate in the coming days because the helicopter must remain within electronic audible range of the rover. With its AutoNav capability, Perseverance can travel hundreds of meters each day.

“Creativity relies on Perseverance to act as a communications vector between it and the mission controllers here at JPL,” Anderson said. “If the rover advances too far or disappears behind a hill, we might lose communications. The rover team has a mission to do and a schedule to stick to. So it’s imperative that it continues to be creative and come to the fore whenever possible.”

Perseverance recently completed exploration of “Foel Drygarn,” a science target that may contain hydrated silica (which is of strong astrobiological significance). It is currently heading to “Mount Julian”, which will provide a panoramic view of the nearby Belva Crater.

Creative NASA helicopter on Mars illustration

Illustration of NASA’s Creativity Helicopter on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

feats of creativity

Built with many off-the-shelf components, such as smartphone processors and cameras, Ingenuity is now 23 months on Earth and 45 flights beyond its expected life. The helicopter flew for over 89 minutes and over 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers).

“When we first flew, we thought we’d be incredibly lucky if we did five flights,” said Teddy Zanetos, chief creative officer at JPL. “We have exceeded expected cumulative flight time since the conclusion of our technology offering by 1,250% and projected distance by 2,214%.”

However, exceeding such expectations comes at a cost. As some helicopter components show signs of wear and terrain becomes more difficult, the Ingenuity team understands that every great mission must eventually come to an end. “We’ve come a long way, and we want to go further,” Zanetos said. “But we know from the start that our time on Mars has been limited, and every operational day is a blessing. Whether the Ingenuity mission ends tomorrow, next week, or months from now is something no one can predict right now. What I can predict is that When that happens, we’ll have a one-on-one party.”

Creativity begins to rotate its blades

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter performs a slow spin test of its blades, on April 8, 2021, the 48th Mars Day, or sol, of the mission. This image was taken by the navigation cameras on NASA’s Perseverance Mars spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

More about creativity

JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) built the Ingenuity Mars helicopter and oversees the project on behalf of NASA Headquarters. Support for this endeavor comes from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, contributing to flight performance analysis and technical guidance during the development of the creation. Companies such as AeroVironment Inc. Qualcomm and SolAero provide expertise in designing and supplying key vehicle components. The Mars Helicopter Delivery System was designed and produced by Lockheed Space Corporation.

At the helm of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Program at NASA Headquarters is Dave Lavery, who serves as program executive director.

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