NASA’s Mars helicopter just did something that has never been done before

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has exceeded the mission team’s expectations for a small, drone-like machine.

Since its maiden flight over the surface of Mars in April 2021 and becoming the first craft to perform a powered, controlled flight on another planet, Ingenuity has continued to perform increasingly complex flights, and even assisted ground-based rover Perseverance. which Ingenuity carried from Earth to Mars before their spectacular landing in February 2021.

In the past month alone, the 4-pound, 19-inch tall helicopter has set three records. In early October, he set a new altitude record by soaring 79 feet (24 meters) above the surface of the red planet, and shortly thereafter he reached a speed record of 22.4 mph (10 meters per second) during his 62nd flight, exceeding the speed of previously estimated. the previous speed record was 17.9 mph (8 m/s).

And now NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the Ingenuity mission, has announced a new first for the helicopter: consecutive flights on consecutive days.

The flights — the 65th and 66th for Ingenuity — took place on November 2 and 3, with JPL confirm their success on Tuesday.

The 65th flight was relatively short for Ingenuity, covering just 23 feet (7 meters). But its next flight was even shorter, just a few meters away in a repositioning exercise to prepare it for a two-week communications shutdown with JPL.

This unavoidable event is the result of what is known as a solar conjunction, when the orbits of Earth and Mars place the two planets on opposite sides of the sun, preventing communication for about two weeks. Solar conjunctions involving Mars occur once every few years so the JPL team successfully handled it, in September 2021.

Once communications resume later this month, Ingenuity and Perseverance will be back up and running. For the rover, this means further exploration of the Martian surface while searching for evidence of ancient microbial life. Ingenuity, meanwhile, will continue to provide aerial imagery to Perseverance to help operators plan its routes across challenging terrain, while providing data to engineers to help them design more advanced versions of the helicopter for future missions.

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