NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made its fifth flight to the Red Planet today with its first one-way trip from Wright Brothers Field to an airfield 423 feet (129 meters) to the south. After arriving over its new airfield, Ingenuity reached an altitude record of 10 meters and captured high-resolution color images of its new neighborhood before landing.
The flight represents the transition of the rotorcraft to its new phase of demonstration of operations. This phase will focus on studying the kind of capabilities that a rotorcraft operating from Mars can provide. Examples include spotting, aerial observations of areas not accessible by a rover, and detailed stereo imagery from atmospheric altitudes. These operations and the lessons learned from them could greatly benefit future aerial exploration of Mars and other worlds.
“The fifth flight of the Mars helicopter is another great achievement for the agency,” said Bob Pearce, associate administrator of NASA’s Directorate of Aviation Research Missions. “The continued success of Ingenuity proves the value of bringing together the strengths of various skill sets from across the agency to create the future, like flying an airplane to another planet! “
The flight began at 3:26 p.m. EDT (12:26 p.m. PDT, 12:33 p.m. local March time) and lasted 108 seconds. The Ingenuity team selected the new landing site based on information gathered from the previous flight – the first ‘aerial reconnaissance’ operation over another world – which enabled them to generate digital elevation maps. indicating almost completely level ground with almost no obstruction.
“We have said goodbye to our first Martian home, Wright Brothers Field, with our grateful thanks for supporting the historic first flights of a planetary rotorcraft,” said Bob Balaram, Chief Engineer, Ingenuity Mars. Helicopter at JPL. “No matter where we go from here, we’ll always take with us a reminder of what those two Dayton bike builders meant to us as we chased the first flight into another world.
The Wright Brothers moved from demonstrating the possibility of powered, controlled flight to trying to better understand how new technology could be employed. Likewise, NASA is looking to learn more with Ingenuity on how operations with next-generation helicopters could benefit future exploration of the Red Planet. This new phase will bring additional risk to Ingenuity, with more one-way flights and more precise maneuvers.
Having successfully landed at its new airfield, Ingenuity will await future instructions, relayed via Perseverance, from mission controllers. The agency’s fifth rover to the fourth planet is also heading south, to an area where it will begin science operations and sample collection. The rover team’s short-term strategy does not require long trips that would leave the helicopter far behind, allowing Ingenuity to continue this demonstration of operations.
“The plan for the future is to fly Ingenuity in a way that does not reduce the tempo of Perseverance science operations,” Balaram said. “We might have a few more flights over the next few weeks and then the agency will assess how we’re doing. We have already been able to put together all of the flight performance data that we originally came to collect here. The new demonstration of operations gives us the opportunity to further expand our knowledge of flying machines on other planets.
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