NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) has confirmed that its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter successfully completed its fifth flight on the Red Planet after conducting its first one-way journey from Wright Brothers Field to an airfield 129 metres to the south.
Upon arrival, the rotorcraft rose to an altitude of 10 metres, capturing high-resolution colour images of the surface.
According to NASA JPL, the flight marked Ingenuity’s transition to a new operations demonstration phase, which will focus on investigating the range of capabilities offered by a Mars rotorcraft.
This is expected to include scouting, aerial observations of areas not accessible by a rover, and detailed stereo imaging from atmospheric altitudes.
“The fifth flight of the Mars Helicopter is another great achievement for the agency,” Bob Pearce, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said.
“The continuing success of Ingenuity proves the value of bringing together the strengths of diverse skill sets from across the agency to create the future, like flying an aircraft on another planet.”
The one-way flight began at 3:26pm EDT, lasting 108 seconds.
Ingenuity’s destination was chosen based on information collected during the previous flight, which enabled the team to generate digital elevation maps indicating “almost completely flat terrain” with “almost no obstructions”.
“We bid adieu to our first Martian home, Wright Brothers Field, with grateful thanks for the support it provided to the historic first flights of a planetary rotorcraft,” Bob Balaram, chief engineer for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL, noted.
“No matter where we go from here, we will always carry with us a reminder of how much those two bicycle builders from Dayton meant to us during our pursuit of the first flight on another world.”
Ingenuity is now expected to await future instructions, relayed via Perseverance, from mission controllers.
The Perseverance rover is also scheduled to travel south, where it is expected to commence science operations and sample collection.
“The plan forward is to fly Ingenuity in a manner that does not reduce the pace of Perseverance science operations,” Balaram added.
“We may get a couple more flights in over the next few weeks, and then the agency will evaluate how we’re doing. We have already been able to gather all the flight performance data that we originally came here to collect. Now, this new operations demo gives us an opportunity to further expand our knowledge of flying machines on other planets.”
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