NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been on Mars almost two years and the high-tech contraption is still in good enough shape to get airborne.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the NASA unit overseeing the latest Mars mission that also includes the Perseverance rover, tweeted a GIF (below) showing the view from Ingenuity as it buzzed above the martian surface on Wednesday, January 11.
During Ingenuity’s 39th flight, the aircraft stayed in the air for around 79 seconds. It flew a distance of 460 feet (140.25 meters) and reached an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) before returning to its launch location.
Ingenuity didn’t break any records during its latest flight, nor did it perform any particular tasks, but it confirmed to JPL operators that the plucky machine is still in excellent working order and all set for further missions to assist the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity and Perseverance arrived on the red planet in spectacular fashion in February 2021, and the helicopter took its first historic hover two months later in April, becoming the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on a planet other than Earth.
Its longest time in the air is 169.5 seconds, achieved on flight 12 in August 2021, while the longest distance covered so far is an impressive 2,325 feet (708.9 meters), achieved in April 2022. It’s also reached speeds as fast as 12.3 mph (19.8 kph) and and flown as high as 46 feet (14 meters) during its numerous trips.
The aircraft was originally sent to Mars to simply test the viability of such a device in an atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s, meaning it faced a greater challenge to get airborne as lift is harder to achieve there. But after nailing the first flight, and several thereafter, the Ingenuity team started using the helicopter’s down-facing camera to assist the ground-based Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity did this by capturing images of the terrain, enabling the rover team to plan safer and more efficient routes for its vehicle as it set about exploring areas of scientific interest.
NASA is now considering building a more advanced version of Ingenuity that could be used as part of the Mars Sample Return mission that will endeavor to return martian dust and rock samples to Earth in the early 2030s.