NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been on Mars almost two years and the high-tech contraption is still in good enough shape to get airborne.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA unit that oversees the latest Mars mission, tweeted a GIF (below). It shows Ingenuity’s view as it buzzed above Mars on Wednesday, January 11.
#MarsHelicopter continues exploring the Martian skies
Ingenuity just completed Flight 39. The rotorcraft was in flight for a total of 79 seconds. It traveled 460 feet (140.25m) at 33 feet (10m) altitude before returning to its original takeoff location. pic.twitter.com/vnKq2uH4n2
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) January 12, 2023
During Ingenuity’s 39th flight, the aircraft stayed in the air for around 79 seconds. It flew a distance between 460 feet and 140.25 meters, and reached an altitude 33 feet (10 metres) before returning back to its launch spot.
Ingenuity didn’t break any records during its latest flight, nor did it perform any particular tasks, but it confirmed to JPL operators that the plucky machine is still in excellent working order and all set for further missions to assist the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity, Perseverance and Ingenuity arrived on the red planet in a spectacular fashion in February 2021. The helicopter made its first historic hover in April 2021, becoming the first aircraft capable of powered, controlled flight on another planet.
Its longest flight time is 169.5 seconds. It was on flight 12 in August 2021. The longest distance traveled so far is 2,325ft (708.9m), which it achieved in April 2022. It’s also reached speeds as fast as 12.3 mph (19.8 kph) and and flown as high as 46 feet (14 meters) during its numerous trips.
The aircraft was originally sent to Mars to simply test the viability of such a device in an atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s, meaning it faced a greater challenge to get airborne as lift is harder to achieve there. But after nailing the first flight, and several thereafter, the Ingenuity team started using the helicopter’s down-facing camera to assist the ground-based Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity captured images of the terrain to enable the rover team plan safer and more efficient routes as it explores areas of scientific interest.
NASA is currently considering building an upgraded version of Ingenuity to be used in the Mars Sample Return mission. This mission will attempt to return rock and dust samples from Mars to Earth by the 2030s.
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