NASA Mars Helicopter Makes One-Way Flight to New Mission

This time, NASA’s Mars robotic helicopter Ingenuity didn’t come again.

That was supposed.

On Friday, Ingenuity, which final month turned the primary machine to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on one other world, took off for the fifth time. It made a profitable one-way journey to one other flat patch of Mars greater than the size of a soccer subject away. The spot the place it landed will function its base of operations for the subsequent month at the very least, starting a brand new part of the mission the place it can function a scout for its bigger robotic companion, the Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity retraced the course of its earlier flight, heading south for 423 toes at an altitude of 16 toes. But as an alternative of turning round, it stopped and climbed increased, to 33 toes, to take some footage of the realm. It then set down, 108 seconds after it had taken off.

As with the earlier 4 flights, Ingenuity flew autonomously, with no assist or communication from individuals on Earth, executing a flight plan that had been despatched hours earlier. Engineers had to wait greater than three hours after Ingenuity had already landed earlier than information of the success — relayed from Ingenuity to Perseverance to an orbiter passing overhead after which to Earth — arrived.

Ingenuity, 1.6 toes tall and weighing 4 kilos, is an $85 million add-on undertaking to the $2.7 billion Perseverance mission, which is looking for indicators of previous life on Mars. The helicopter traveled to Mars tucked beneath the stomach of the rover, which landed on Mars in February.

In NASA’s unique plans, after the helicopter was dropped onto the bottom in early April, the Ingenuity workforce had a month and up to 5 flights to exhibit that managed, powered flying was attainable on Mars, the place the environment on the floor is simply 1 p.c as dense as Earth’s. Ingenuity was to have been left behind, and Perseverance would have headed off to conduct its scientific explorations.

But the mission’s managers at NASA modified their minds.

Ingenuity flew nearly flawlessly. The first flight was a brief up-and-down. Subsequent flights ventured farther afield, assembly the entire unique targets.

In a blog post, Joshua Ravich, Ingenuity’s mechanical engineering lead, said the power system, the heaters, the navigation system and the rotors were all working well. “Our helicopter is even more robust than we had hoped,” he wrote.

That opened the door to using Ingenuity not only as a proof of the basic technology but also to provide aerial reconnaissance of the surrounding landscape for the Perseverance scientists, who have decided that they want the rover to explore the neighboring areas for several months.

The fourth flight scouted a new location for the helicopter to land. “The digital elevation maps put together by the Ingenuity team gave us confidence that our new airfield is flat as a pancake — a good thing when you have to land on it,” Mr. Ravich said.

During the fourth flight, Perseverance, parked more than 250 feet from the helicopter, successfully recorded the sound of Ingenuity’s rotors slicing through the Martian air.

“We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance,” David Mimoun, the science lead for the microphone, said in a NASA news release. “This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere.”

After the move of Ingenuity to its new base, the focus of the Perseverance team now shifts to its scientific studies, which have been largely on hold during the test flights.

“The plan forward is to fly Ingenuity in a manner that does not reduce the pace of Perseverance science operations,” said Bob Balaram, the chief engineer of the helicopter, in a NASA release after the flight.

Ingenuity is expected to make just to make one or two more flights this month, taking off when there is time amid Perseverance’s other activities.

But if that all goes well, Ingenuity could continue tagging along with Perseverance across the Martian landscape.

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