NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity captured stunning new aerial views of its landing site Jezero Crater during its most complex flight yet.
The rotorcraft was meant as a technology demonstration to prove that NASA could conduct a powered, controlled flight on another planet. The agency expected Ingenuity to crash on its fourth or fifth flight, as it was pushed to its limits, but the helicopter continued to fly faster and farther than engineers thought possible.
The Mars Helicopter Ingenuity was built by JPL, which also manages the operations demonstration activity during its extended mission for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautics Research, and Space Technology mission directorates. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity’s development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Martin Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.
Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Flights
Despite the challenges that faced the helicopter team in trying to lift the craft off of the Martian surface, Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully took off for the first time on April 19. This flight saw Ingenuity lift off of the ground, hover briefly and then land back down. The rotorcraft’s first flight took it up to 10 feet (3 meters) above the Martian surface. The entire flight lasted about 40 seconds.
In May, NASA gave Ingenuity a new mission: The Mars helicopter Ingenuity is now flying to new areas that have never been surveyed before, scouting and mapping. The Martian landscape below, snapping images of intriguing rock outcrops and ridges, and testing operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters.
During its fifth flight, Ingenuity traveled 423 feet south to a site called “Airfield B” that it had previously flown over, photographed, and mapped. That time, it didn’t turn back. Since then, Mars helicopter Ingenuity has made only one-way trips to new areas.
More than three weeks later, flight 10 took Ingenuity toward a collection of rock features called “Raised Ridges,” where water once might have flowed.
Mars helicopter Ingenuity, which landed with the Perseverance rover inside Jezero Crater, an ancient, Martian lakebed, on Feb. 18, completed its 10th flight on July 24, climbing to a new record altitude of 40 feet (12 meters). From this vantage point, Ingenuity was able to photograph low-lying wrinkles, or “Raised Ridges,” in the crater’s surface, which may reveal new clues about Mars’ watery past, according to a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The team then created 3D view of the Raised Ridges area using two images that were taken during its flight. The images were taken only a few meters apart, from an altitude of 40 feet (12 meters). This area interests the Mars Perseverance rover science team because it consists of three distinct surface fractures that converge at a central point. Similar to fractures seen in desert environments on Earth that offer possible clues about past water activity in the area.
For Ken Farley, the project scientist for NASA’s Perseverance rover, one of his current favorites is a color image of “South Seítah.” An area the mission’s science team had considered potentially worthy of a rover visit. The agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took the image during its 12th and most recent flight, on August 16.
For this flight, Ingenuity kept its work to a minimum, although the helicopter should have gathered a few color photos and the materials for a 3D stereo image of its new home base. The little Mars Helicopter Ingenuity next excursion should be a reconnaissance flight of South Séítah, the mission team has said, and additional such flights could follow.
Today’s flight is part of an ongoing campaign to use Ingenuity as a scout for its much larger companion, NASA’s Perseverance rover. While the rover carries much more sophisticated scientific equipment than Ingenuity does. It’s not nearly as agile, and its drivers need to monitor the terrain it tackles closely.
NASA engineers haven’t said when Ingenuity’s mission will end. But the helicopter could keep flying as long as it stays alive. It doesn’t interfere with the nearby science work of the Perseverance rover.