NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has successfully completed its 12th flight on the surface of Mars in one of its toughest flights to date.
The flight took place earlier this week within the South Sittah area of Jezero Crater, a site that scientists believe may contain evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet.
The 4-pound, 19-inch-high helicopter began climbing 32.8 feet (10 meters) into the air before flying some 1,476 feet (450 meters) in a flight of 169 seconds – its longest to date.
A dozen books! # helicopterOur last flight took us to the geological marvel of “South Sitah”. It climbed 32.8 ft (10 m) for a total of 169 seconds and flew ~1,476 ft (~450 m) to explore the area for Tweet embed. https://t.co/cM9xzI8rza pic.twitter.com/SDRVMpOPoo
And[مدش]. NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) August 17, 2021
During its time in the air, NASA’s first-ever helicopter performed a series of maneuvers – including hovering and sidestepping – to capture two images of an interesting location from a distance of 5 metres. This will allow the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, to create a 3D image to help the persistence team determine if the site deserves closer examination.
The flight was considered particularly risky because it was the first time Ingenuity had flown over uneven terrain, which the JPL team feared might have confounded the helicopter’s navigation sensors.
“Ingenuity’s navigation system – which was originally intended to support a short technical demonstration – works on the assumption that it is flying through flat (or near-flat) terrain,” the team said before the flight. “Deviations from this assumption can lead to errors that can lead to temporary flights in roll and tilt (tilting back and forth in a wobbly pattern), as well as long-term errors in the helicopter’s knowledge of its location.” In this case, the team’s fears were unfounded, and thus it could now begin to plan the next flight of the helicopter.
The innovation became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet when it flew a few meters above the surface of Mars in April 2021. Since then, the helicopter has been making increasingly complex flights as the team pushes the plane to the limit.
The initial plan was to use the helicopter as a test device to see if a more advanced airborne vehicle based on the Ingenuity design would be able to assist other planetary missions. But Ingenuity did so well during its early test flights that it’s already able to provide the Perseverance rover team with atmospheric data as it searches for areas of interest that could reveal many of the Red Planet’s ancient secrets.
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