Washington: NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter, originally expected to fly only five times, has aced its 25th flight on the Red Planet, setting new personal bests for speed and distance.
Weighing just 1.8 kg, Ingenuity became the first rotorcraft ever to make powered flight beyond Earth.
In a blogpost, mission officials shared that Flight 25, performed on April 8, sent Ingenuity soaring 704 metres to the northwest, almost 80 metres longer than the current record by Flight 9.
The helicopter’s ground speed was about 5.5 metres per second, which is another record.
NASA expected the mini helicopter to be in the rarefied Martian air for about 161.5 seconds, and it flew for 161.3 seconds.
“#MarsHelicopter is breaking records again! Ingenuity completed its 25th and most ambitious flight,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages Ingenuity’s mission, said in a tweet.
“It broke its distance and ground speed records, travelling 704 metres (2,310 feet) at 5.5 metres per second while flying for 161.3 seconds.”
The little chopper landed with NASA’s Perseverance rover on the floor of Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. Ingenuity’s $85 million mission was supposed to be done after flight number five.
But the solar-powered chopper had performed so well and remained so healthy, despite Mars’s thin atmosphere, that NASA granted a mission extension.
The 25th flight was the second in five days for Ingenuity and its fifth sortie in the last month.
In the blog post, Ben Morrell, Ingenuity operations engineer at JPL, wrote that Perseverance is making great progress on its drive to the river delta, and it is important that Ingenuity keeps pace to arrive at the delta before the rover does.
“This is for two reasons: telecommunications and safety,” Morrell said.
“Ingenuity only communicates with the helicopter base station on Perseverance, so it needs to stay close enough to have a good connection.
“For safety, it is ideal if Ingenuity flies ahead of Perseverance to avoid ever having to fly past or near the rover, to minimise the risk of any close contact in a worst-case scenario,” he noted.