NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS via AP
NASA is devoting extra time to testing the operational capabilities of its groundbreaking Ingenuity helicopter, which completed its first motor flight on Mars less than two weeks ago. Since then, the unit has completed a total of four flights. If all goes well after its fifth trip, NASA says it plans to start the “next phase” of tests.
“The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s science mission directorate, said in a statement Friday.
“As ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it for the benefit of future aerial platforms as we prioritize and move forward with the Perseverance rover team’s short-term scientific goals,” he added.
NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which landed on February 18, brought the helicopter to the red planet. The rover has since explored the planet’s terrain near the landing site, and its success has allowed for more time to test the Ingenuity helicopter, NASA said.
I’m heading south to my first exploration zone, and guess who’s tagging along? #MarsHelicopter and I hit the trail as it moves into a new phase to demonstrate how future rovers and pilots can work together. https://t.co/oYK5sydeN4
– NASA’s endurance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 30, 2021
The goal of the rover is to study rocks and soil found on the planet that could indicate whether past life existed there 3.5 billion years ago. The mission will take two Earth years, which comes out to a single year on Mars.
In particular, NASA announced on April 21 that rovers’ technology was effectively capable of producing a small amount of breathable oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
The original task of the Ingenuity helicopter was to demonstrate its flight capability given the differences in atmospheric pressure and gravity found on the planet compared to Earth.
NASA / Getty Images
“Ingenuity’s transition from conducting a technology demonstration to an operations demonstration entails a new aircraft envelope,” NASA said.
“There will be more precision maneuvering, greater use of its antenna observation features and more risk in general,” it added.
The further testing will be carried out over the next few months and will end in August at the latest.
While the first helicopter flight went only 10 meters above the ground, each journey has drastically increased in distance. On the fourth flight, the helicopter rose 16 meters into the air and made a round trip of 872 feet over the planet.
An extra strength in the updates comes when you look at the photos taken by the cameras on top of the Perseverance rover so people on Earth can see the helicopter hovering over the red and orange rocky desert floor.