NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully completed its 10th flight on Mars on Saturday, bringing its total distance flown on the Red Planet to more than one mile (roughly 1.60 kilometers) and capturing important images to help out its friend, the Perseverance rover.
In a Twitter post early Sunday, NASA confirmed that its helicopter had flown over an area called “Raised Ridges,” which is part of a fracture system that the Perseverance team finds intriguing and is considering visiting sometime in the future. Fracture systems often operate as pathways for fluid to get underground. If water did indeed flow through Raised Ridges, it would be an ideal spot to look for evidence of past Martian life, which is the rover’s primary goal, and maybe even drill a sample for further examination.
On Friday, Ingenuity operations lead Teddy Tzanetos described the helicopter’s planned flight path in a status update. Tzanetos said that flight 10 was Ingenuity’s most complex endeavor to date in terms of navigation and performance. The flight contained 10 distinct waypoints and a nominal altitude of 40 feet (12 meters), a new record height and an increase from the 33 feet (10 meters) it achieved on its ninth flight. He said the flight is estimated to last approximately 165 seconds.
Tzanetos explained that the flight, which NASA hasn’t published full details on yet, would begin with Ingenuity taking off from its sixth airfield and then moving south-by-southwest about 165 feet (50 meters). Next, the helicopter will take two images of Raised Ridges from distinct waypoints looking south. It will proceed to fly farther to the west and the northwest, snapping photos of Raised Ridges from each vantage point. NASA aims to use the overlapping data from these waypoints to create a variety of stereo images.
The status update also takes the time to remind us how Ingenuity has gone above and beyond its initial goals and carried out impressive maneuvers. It has survived on Mars for 107 sols, or Martian days, which is 76 more than its original mission.
In addition, the helicopter has also managed to perform two flight software updates designed to improve its flight and color image capture abilities. Ingenuity has flown for a total of more than 14 minutes on Mars, or more than 112% above its performance in tech demos. It has also given us new views of the Red Planet, taking 43 13-megapixel color images and 809 black and white navigation images.
Overall, Ingenuity has broadened our horizons of what’s possible on Mars and given us the exciting gift of knowledge during these challenging times on Earth. Let’s keep cheering for it and enjoy it while we can.