Over the past few weeks, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has hit major milestones, achieving powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on the Red Planet and successfully transmitting data back to Earth.
“From millions of miles away, Ingenuity checked all the technical boxes we had at NASA about the possibility of powered, controlled flight at the Red Planet,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said.
“Future Mars exploration missions can now confidently consider the added capability an aerial exploration may bring to a science mission.”
Following these successes, the NASA team is now expected to push Ingenuity’s boundaries with a fourth flight from newly dubbed Martian airfield, Wright Brothers Field.
Flight Four is expected to begin with Ingenuity rising to an altitude of five metres before heading south, flying over rocks, sand ripples, and small impact craters for 84 metres.
The rotorcraft will also use its downward-looking navigation camera to capture images of the surface every 1.2 metres until it completes a total journey of 133 metres downrange.
Ingenuity was then expected to “go into a hover” and take colour before heading back to Wright Brothers Field.
“To achieve the distance necessary for this scouting flight, we’re going to break our own Mars records set during flight three,” Johnny Lam, backup pilot for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL said.
“We’re upping the time airborne from 80 seconds to 117, increasing our max airspeed from two metres per second to 3.5 (4.5 mph to 8), and more than doubling our total range.”
After securing data from the fourth flight, the NASA team will begin planning for a fifth flight.
“We have been kicking around several options regarding what a flight five could look like,” Bob Balaram, Ingenuity chief engineer at JPL, added.
“But ask me about what they entail after a successful flight four. The team remains committed to building our flight experience one step at a time.”
The fourth flight is scheduled for 10:12am EDT, with the team expected to secure data by 1:21pm EDT.
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