NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has successfully completed its 12th flight on Mars. It’s quick to say, but the milestone is astonishing even for the space agency, which in fact expected at most three flights with this small aircraft.
This last flight was also one of the most ambitious and dangerous: Ingenuity was leaving the flight over the plains and entering a hilly landscape, something that could have been a problem for its sensors. It wasn’t, and Ingenuity continues to make history.
NASA’s JPL explained how Ingenuity has begun exploring the ‘South Seite’ region. To do so, it flew at an altitude of 10 metres and travelled about 450 metres during the 169 seconds it was in the air.
The purpose of the flight was to assess whether the region was worth exploring by Perseverance, to whom Ingenuity “passes on” the collected data to JPL, which can then use the collected images to create a precise 3D map of the region and decide whether or not it is worthwhile for Perseverance to examine the area in more detail.
NASA explained how Ingenuity’s navigation system had been created for a small technology demonstration, and was therefore limited to the assumption that it would fly over flat (or nearly flat) terrain.
Those problems did not occur and the little Ingenuity once again successfully met this challenge, something that surprised a NASA that acknowledged that “before our campaign began, we expected at least one, maybe three or four successful flights”.
Ingenuity now has 12, and in fact these flights are being recorded in a traditional flight hour logbook kept by one of the mission’s top managers. One that is reminiscent of times gone by and has a special charm.