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The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Experiment is getting more interesting

Ingenuity airborne (right) during its fourth flight on 30 April 2021<div class="e3lan e3lan-in-post1"><script async src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js"></script>
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Ingenuity airborne (right) during its fourth flight on April 30, 2021.
Picture: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS

It is not wrong to want Ingenuity to go down. The Mars helicopter that got into a dramatic accident would mean that the NASA team pushed the craft to its limits – that there is finally a ceiling on the results with the astonishingly successful helicopter. So far, Ingenuity has completed four of its five scheduled test flights on Mars, and it now has a new mission for the coming month.

Assuming a successful fifth flight, Ingenuity will embark on an undoubtedly more experimental phase of aerial scouting and other functions and investigate how otherwise future rotorcraft could perform human targets on Mars. The new set of challenges means that the mission of ingenuity has evolved from a simple demonstration that flight is possible on Mars.

“We measure as we go,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager, about Ingenuity’s life expectancy at a NASA press conference held last week. Ingenuity was built and tested in 30 days of operation. We expect some finite life, so it will really be a race between how long these parts surprise us in survival, and also by performing these operational scenarios, we will definitely push the boundaries within ingenuity. ”

First flight of the invention on 19 April 2021.
Picture: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS

The extra month of experimentation is good news for the helicopter team, which had a 30-day window to complete the first five flights. It seems to end these flights with days left, and since the Perseverance rover team is ahead of schedule on their system control, it will give the helicopter team some extra time to play around. A status update on Ingenuity’s performance in the air, published late last week by the helicopter’s chief pilot, Håvard Grip, revealed that the vessel has passed its initial test of flying on Mars with, well, with brilliance.

According to a NASA release, the kinds of tasks Ingenuity could take on in the next month are much more ambitious. As endurance indicates his main task –scout signs of fossil life out in a dried river delta—The helicopter can accompany it, spot interesting places from above or sail possible routes for the rover. It can also take stereo pictures that help create elevation maps of the area. The helicopter can be about two-thirds of a mile away from endurance and still communicate with it, according to Aung.

It would obviously be good if ingenuity continues to chug together and defy all predictions about its survival. But at the same time, it has already blown us away with its performance. All the data we get going forward is pretty much a bonus.

“There are a lot of ideas about how this could end and what the final flight might be,” Jennifer Trosper, a deputy project manager on the rover team, said during last week’s press conference. “Once we review it, our goal is to evaluate each month and see how it goes, and then determine what the next steps are.”

So no, the NASA team is not hell to kill ‘the copter. But the time for short, conservative flights is over, and we’re excited to see what’s next.

More: Watch footage of the remarkable rise of the ingenuity and successful landing

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