NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has completed its 31st flight over Mars, successfully making a short 56-second hop on the Red Planet that brought it closer to an ancient river delta on the planet’s terrain.
In its latest mission on Mars which happened Tuesday, September 6, the Ingenuity copter hovered for about 56 seconds and traversed around 318 feet (97 meters) of horizontal terrain, the mission fight log said.
The Ingenuity hopped to an altitude of 10 meters, cruising at a speed of 4.75 meters per second.
Ingenuity then flew over the ancient river delta that NASA’s Perseverance rover explored in the last five months.
Second Ingenuity Flight Since Mars Winter Shutdown
The flight is Ingenuity’s second after the mission team decided to shut it down for two months during the winter season since the helicopter’s solar panels were receiving less amount of sunlight which caused lower power supply than the required amount. NASA said tha Mars is experiencing the peak of the winter season, and because of this, the air on the red planet is much denser, that could make the flight relatively easier.
The temperature at Ingenuity’s site in the Jezero crater plunged to as low as minus 86 degrees Celsius during the night. The Ingenuity copter reached Mars while attached to the Perseverance rover when it landed in the Jezero crater last February.
Ingenuity’s most recent flight prior to Tuesday’s sortie was a simple one similar to the helicopter’s second flight, which took place on April 22 this year, when it made its first sideways movement in the Martian terrain of about 13 feet (4 meters) before it made ita landing. During the recent flight, the helicopter had been airborne for 33 seconds, rose to an altitude of 16.5 feet (5 meters), and navigated about 6.5 feet (2 meters) with the goal of providing data on its ability to make an accurate landing.
The mission team based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a report last month that the Ingenuity flight path will continue “toward the river delta in the coming weeks while the environment continues to improve.” The mission team aso carried out a software update on Ingenuity to improve its navigation.
The four-pound flying machine has outlived its foreseen lifespan and has overcome technical glitches, as conditions have made it difficult to charge the copter’s solar-powered batteries enough to make its flight. But, despite these, Ingenuity still flies.
Two-Helicopter Martian Rock Sample Return Mission Set
NASA is set to redesign a future mission to Mars. The US space agency announced that a pair of Ingenuity-inspired rotorcraft would be a key component of a future mission to transport pristine Martian rock samples from the Jezero Crater back to Earth.
The original Mars Sample Return project plan involved a rover that would fetch the samples, but this would require its own lander. The change in the plan to instead use helicopters was reached when the mission reached the conceptual design phase.