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NASA Mars helicopter pulls ‘nail pieces’ ninth flight over uneven terrain

Ingenuity saw its own shadow during its ninth flight.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

When NASA sent the Ingenuity helicopter to Mars, it played. Now it pushes its limits, flies fast and reaches new heights. NASA announced Monday that Ingenuity successfully completed its ninth and “most challenging”

; flight, and we now have the details of what NASA called a “nail-biter.”

NASA’s goal was to go big with a daring “high-speed flight over unfriendly terrain” that would take the rotorcraft far from its robotic companion, the Perseverance Rover.

Instead of just jumping in front of the rover, the helicopter took a shortcut over a sandy area and put records of distance, airtime and speed in the process. It hit a speed of 5 meters per second and flew for 166.4 seconds while snapping images of the landscape.

This map shows Ingenuity’s previous flights over Mars along with the approximate path of the ninth flight over uneven terrain.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

The terrain below presented some new challenges for the helicopter’s navigation system. Ingenuity had to make sense of “high slopes and undulations” and its team was concerned that the machine might accidentally land in a treacherous area. NASA described it as “the most nerve-wracking flight since flight 1.”

The helicopter’s navigation system was optimized for flat ground. It looks down, assesses what it sees, and uses this information to get where it needs to go.

On the ninth flight, the fighter had to dip into a crater, a potentially dangerous move for a machine trained to make sense of flat terrain. To compensate, the Ingenuity team reduced its speed at that point and selected a large potential landing zone if Ingenuity got a little lost along the way.

Ingenuity landed in a good place, and NASA reported that the team was cheering by learning that the helicopter was alive and well.

Ingenuity will send color images back from the adventure that show how a flying machine can be a useful scout for a land-based rover. “This flight was also explicitly designed to have scientific value by providing the first close-up of the major scientific goals that the rover will not achieve in some time,” NASA said in a statement Wednesday.

Ingenuity has already overcome a number of potential obstacles, from one software error to one anomaly during flight. While the flight was risky, it made sense for what was always considered a high-reward, high-reward technology experiment.

“A successful flight would be a powerful demonstration of the capabilities that an aircraft (and only an aircraft) can make available in the context of Mars exploration – traveling rapidly over otherwise untraversable terrain while scouting for interesting scientific targets,” NASA said. Consider it demonstrated.

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