NASA reveals how the Mars helicopter keeps getting better and better

Animation showing a close-up of NASA's Mars helicopter, Ingenuity.

It’s been several weeks since NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, made its final flight on the red planet.

The plane was grounded for good after suffering damage to one of its propellers during its 72nd and final flight. But despite the disappointment, Ingenuity is widely acknowledged to have achieved a lot since arriving on Mars in February 2021.

Not only is it the first craft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet, but, as explained in a new video released by NASA on Wednesday, Ingenuity was also pushed to test the limits of its own aerodynamics, and on many occasions broke its own records. for speed, distance, and altitude.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s Most Extreme Flight (Mars Report)

Speaking from the Aerial Vehicles Lab at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees rotorcraft missions, Ingenuity chief engineer Travis Brown discussed some of the record-breaking moments

Brown explained, for example, how Ingenuity was initially expected to make as many as five flights over a 30-day period, but ended up flying 72 times over nearly two years on the Red Planet.

Once the craft proved capable of achieving controlled flight in Mars’ extremely thin atmosphere, the team paired the vehicle with Perseverance, a ground-based rover that arrived on Mars at the same time as Ingenuity. It is experimenting with new ways to target Ingenuity’s high-resolution cameras, with aerial imagery helping the Perseverance team plan a safe and efficient route for the rover as it scours the Martian surface for evidence of ancient microbial life.

Brown said the Ingenuity project really started with flight 49 when the plane set new speed and altitude records. On flight 62, Ingenuity had achieved its highest and fastest flight, reaching a height of 24 meters and a top speed of 32.4 mph.

The team also tested different landing speeds for the craft – a faster landing to save power and a slower landing to reduce landing loads – and even commissioned it to carry out the first study of the movement of wind and dust on the planet, which offered new insights into the atmosphere Mars.

Brown said that everything the Ingenuity team learns from its 72 flights will be applied to the design of the next generation of rotorcraft aimed at Mars and possibly other planets in our solar system.

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