Ingenuity will continue to fly through Martian skies on an extended mission to test operations after a successful first month on the Red Planet.
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter made history on April 19, 2021, when it became the first powered flight on another planet. Since then, the helicopter has travelled farther, higher, and faster. Now, NASA announced on Friday that the intrepid helicopter’s one-month demonstration period will come to an end and its operational capability will be extended by at least another month.
The Ingenuity mission, which is part of the Perseverance rover, aims to expand science’s horizons by introducing an aerial dimension to Mars exploration, which is currently inaccessible. If manned missions are to be launched in the future, this data would be especially crucial. Although the helicopter does not hold science instruments and is just a ride-along on the mission, its sole purpose is to demonstrate rotorcraft flight in Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere amid bone-chilling temperatures, with nights reaching minus 90 degrees Celsius.
“The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team’s near-term science goals.”
The half a meter-high helicopter is solar powered and weighs just 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms). Two pairs of counter-rotating blades spin at 2,500 rpm to produce lift toward the tenuous Martian atmosphere, which has just 1% of Earth’s air density at sea level. There are no science payloads onboard Ingenuity, but it does have a laser altimeter, a 13-megapixel color camera, and a 0.5-megapixel black-and-white camera. Ingenuity relies on Perseverance to communicate with Earth, but can range up to about a kilometer from the rover.
Perseverance has already proven to be an incredible mission since its February 18, 2021, skyhook landing in Jezero Crater at the Octavia E. Butler site. Now we can’t wait to see Ingenuity fly on as a robotic scout for the Perseverance rover in the coming weeks.