Published on November 8, 2023, 3:45 pm
NASA’s Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, continues to exceed expectations as it makes groundbreaking achievements on the red planet. After successfully completing its maiden flight in April 2021, becoming the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet, Ingenuity has continuously pushed boundaries and even provided assistance to the Perseverance rover.
In the past month alone, this diminutive drone-like machine has set three new records. It reached an altitude of 79 feet (24 meters) above Mars’ surface and achieved a record speed of 22.4 mph (10 meters per second) during its 62nd flight, surpassing its previous speed record of 17.9 mph (8 m/s).
The latest achievement for Ingenuity comes in the form of back-to-back flights on consecutive days. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), overseeing the mission, confirmed that flights number 65 and 66 took place on November 2 and 3. This quick turnaround between flights highlights the team’s confidence in Ingenuity’s capabilities.
During the recent flights, Ingenuity covered a distance of just 23 feet (7 meters) in its 65th flight and moved only a couple of feet in a repositioning exercise during its 66th flight. This repositioning was done to prepare for a two-week communications shutdown with JPL due to solar conjunction. Solar conjunction occurs when Earth and Mars are on opposite sides of the sun, causing communication interruptions for approximately two weeks. The JPL team successfully navigated through a similar event in September 2021.
Once communications resume later this month after solar conjunction ends, both Ingenuity and Perseverance will continue their respective missions. Perseverance will further explore the Martian surface in search of evidence of ancient microbial life while gathering samples for future return to Earth as part of the ambitious Mars Sample Return mission. Meanwhile, Ingenuity will provide crucial aerial images to help operators plan routes for Perseverance and gather valuable data for the development of more advanced versions of the helicopter for future missions.
It is worth mentioning that Ingenuity recently captured an image of the Perseverance rover during one of its flights. Both vehicles landed on Mars together in February 2021 and have been operating inside the Jezero Crater, a location believed to hold possible evidence of ancient life.
NASA’s Perseverance rover has been diligently exploring Mars, equipped with various scientific tools and cameras. In addition to searching for signs of ancient microbial life, it is also aiming to gather samples of Martian rock and soil for eventual return to Earth as part of the Mars Sample Return mission. The current mission serves as an opportunity to test robotic technology that could play a role in future crewed missions to Mars.
Restoring contact with Ingenuity was another recent achievement for NASA’s Mars team at JPL. After ten weeks without communication, they successfully reestablished contact and confirmed that everything is functioning as expected.
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