The Ingenuity helicopter is specially built to create history, so it should come as no surprise that the lucky little drone has just completed its ninth flight on Mars, and this was the most impressive yet. Ingenuity flew higher, faster and longer than it has done before, and it is still rare to go on another trip.
The Ingenuity team released some details on what they intended for the ninth flight back on July 2nd. The flight took place on July 5th. Although we do not have all the details of the helicopter’s activities, we do know that JPL sees the flight as yet another smashing success. We also have another snapshot of the drone’s shadow on the surface. Ingenuity only has downward facing cameras because it was only intended as a technology demo mission.
According to a tweet published yesterday after the end of the operation, Ingenuity spent 166.4 seconds in the air and it reached a speed of 5 m / s. It may not sound very fast for a helicopter, but this is a helicopter on another planet. Rovers like endurance and its older siblings Curiosity can only crawl along a few feet at a time because operators here on Earth have to make sure it doesn’t topple anything dangerous. Ingenuity has the power to get where it goes fast.
#MarsHelicopter pushes its red planet boundaries. 🚁
Rotorcraft completed its 9th and most challenging flight yet, flying for 166.4 seconds at a speed of 5 m / s. Take a look at this shot of Ingenuity’s shadow taken with its navigation camera. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/zUIbrr7Qw9
– NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) July 5, 2021
NASA announced several weeks ago that it was expanding Ingenuity’s technology demonstration mission, which was to last only one month. The new “operation demonstration” phase has seen the helicopter begin to take one-way flights, cover more distance and move faster. During a previous flight, a computer error caused some wobbling and a temporary loss of location tracking, but the robot’s generous error margins helped it settle down safely. During this flight, ingenuity passed over a sandy area known as Séítah. This was a challenge for the robot as its navigation algorithms were designed for flat rocky terrain, not rolling dunes. It did not suffer any problems as it did in the past.
As successful as ingenuity is, it probably will not live much longer on the red planet. NASA designed the helicopter to be lightweight and efficient using off-the-shelf components, such as a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 smartphone processor. However, these parts are not hardened against the harsh conditions on Mars. The small solar-powered helicopter is unlikely to survive the coming March winter. However, it has already made history and its descendants will no doubt do even more.