NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight yesterday. It took off at 10:49 am ET (7:49 pm PT or 12:33 pm local time on Mars), climbed to a height of 5 meters, then flew south about 133 meters, and then back 266 meters there, and back. In total, he was in the air for 117 seconds. This is another set of records for a helicopter, even compared to an impressive third flight.
The intelligence that Ingenuity performs may one day prove beneficial to human missions, determining the best paths for explorers and reaching places that would otherwise be impossible. The 1.8 kg mini-helicopter successfully completed the fourth of five originally planned flights, flying farther and faster than ever before.
“We wanted to gather information on operational support for the helicopter, while Perseverance will focus on its scientific mission.”
Laurie Glaze, Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
The fifth is planned in the coming days, then its mission will be extended, initially by one Martian month. The next flight will depend on whether it is still in good shape and helps, rather than hinders, the rover’s goals of collecting soil and rock samples for future laboratory analysis on Earth.
Chief Engineer Bob Balaram predicted that the limiting factor would be its ability to withstand cold Martian nights when temperatures drop to –90 ° C. Ingenuity keeps warm with a solar-powered heater, but it was only rated for a month, and engineers aren’t sure how many freeze-thaw cycles it can go through before something breaks.
NASA originally thought Perseverance would leave where it landed in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, north of the planet’s equator. This would mean that the rover left Ingenuity behind and out of communication range. The agency now wants to preserve Perseverance in the area for some time after discovering a rocky outcrop that they believe contains one of the oldest materials at the bottom of the crater.
They hope to collect their first sample of Mars in July. Ingenuity’s exploits have captured the public’s imagination since its maiden flight on April 19, but NASA said this did not affect its decision to allow the two robots to continue exploring Mars together.