NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen hovering during its third flight on April 25, 2021, as seen by the left Navigation Camera aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. (NASA JPL)
The Mars helicopter Ingenuity completed a third successful flight on April 25 showing progress on its abilities to fly further and faster than in the two previous demonstration flights, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced.
Ingenuity’s third flight occurred at 4:31 a.m. EDT or 12:33 p.m. Mars time, according to NASA. The helicopter climbed 16 feet, which was the same as the second flight, and then flew downrange for 164 feet at a top speed of 6.6 feet per second.
“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” Dave Lavery, the project’s program executive for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions.”
During this flight, the JPL engineers were able to test Ingenuity’s flight algorithm and camera. The helicopter flies using a flight plan programmed prior to takeoff and uses its camera to track surface features on Mars to navigate. Because this flight took place over a greater distance and speed, the onboard flight algorithms had to work faster to process the images.
This is the first color image of the Martian surface taken by an aerial vehicle while it was aloft. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured it with its color camera during its second successful flight test on April 22, 2021. At the time this image, Ingenuity was 17 feet (5.2 meters) above the surface and pitching (moving the camera’s field of view upward) so the helicopter could begin its 7-foot (2-meter) translation to the west – away from the rover. (NASA JPL)
“This is the first time we’ve seen the algorithm for the camera running over a long distance,” MiMi Aung, the helicopter’s project manager at JPL, said in a statement. “You can’t do this inside a test chamber.”
The flight algorithm is just one factor that has to go right for the camera to work Gerik Kubiak, a JPL software engineer, said. The camera also has to get the correct image exposure and the software has to run consistently. Dust could also prove to be a problem if it interferes with the image.
The flight was documented by the Mars rover, Perseverance, from Van Zyl Overlook. Ingenuity traveled to Mars attached to the body of Perseverance.
Ingenuity will take another flight in the next few days, according to NASA.