The seventh flight of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars saw the vehicle fly nearly 350 feet to a landing spot that hadn’t been closely surveyed beforehand.
Ingenuity continues to impress. This demonstration mission, which began on April 3, was only supposed to last for 30 days, but NASA seems keen to get as much mileage from of this little aircraft as possible. And it’s hard to blame them. Ingenuity, despite a wonky sixth flight, has performed remarkably well, showcasing the potential for more ambitious and sophisticated Martian aircraft.
This latest hop was the first for Ingenuity since experiencing an in-flight anomaly during its sixth flight on May 22, 2021. During that flight, the helicopter’s navigation system got tripped out on account of a single lost frame, resulting in some alarming herky-jerky movements. Ingenuity managed to survive the extra time and energy required to complete the flight, and it landed without further incident.
Mercifully, nothing appears to have gone wrong during the seventh jaunt. It was “another successful flight,” declared NASA JPL on Twitter. “No anomalies in flight 7, Ingenuity is healthy!,” stated an unspecified team member. No exact date was given for the seventh flight, aside from NASA saying it would happen no earlier than this past Sunday, June 6. The space agency released a single black-and-white photo taken by Ingenuity during the flight.
Ingenuity’s seventh hop was just over a minute long, during which time the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter traveled 348 feet (106 meters). It flew south, landing in a completely unfamiliar spot. The new airfield was chosen based on satellite data provided by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which showed it to be flat and free of obstacles.
No word yet on an eighth flight, but we have no reason to believe it won’t happen. And in fact, Ingenuity seems no worse for wear. On Twitter, NASA JPL quoted a team member as saying: “No sign of aging yet in the actuator system. With each flight we gain additional real world info on the performance of the rotor and its thermal characteristics, which allows us to incrementally increase allowable flight times.” So that’s pretty encouraging. By continuing to push Ingenuity’s limits, NASA will be better equipped to design its successor.
NASA’s Perseverance rover recently surpassed 100 Sols, or Martian days, on Mars. It surveyed the first five Ingenuity flights, but NASA now needs less spectating and more sciencing from the rover. To date, Perseverance has tested all its cameras and instruments and relayed over 75,000 images, in addition to recording sounds on Mars and generating oxygen from the atmosphere.
From here, Perseverance, along with its trusty sidekick, will move south towards the next target area of exploration.