NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter recently reached a significant milestone on its mission to Mars, completing its longest flight in 18 months. On October 19, 2023, Ingenuity made its 63rd flyby of the Martian surface, covering a distance of 579 meters above the surface. This remarkable feat not only demonstrates the helicopter’s capabilities but also breaks previous records for the distance traveled in a single flight on Mars.
During its mission, Ingenuity made several scientific discoveries and contributions to our understanding of the Martian environment. One of the vivid examples is when a helicopter took pictures of the rover in the Jezero crater from a height of 12 meters.
Graphic on Ingenuity. Credit: NASA
These high-resolution images provided valuable information about the geological features of the crater, which is believed to have once contained liquid water.
On Monday, October 23, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, based in Southern California and responsible for the Ingenuity mission, posted an announcement on X (formerly known as Twitter).
On April 8, 2022, Flight 25 of Ingenuity set a single rotorcraft distance record of 2,310 feet or 704 meters. Before this record, Flight 9 in July 2021 held second place at 2,051 feet or 625 meters. Flight 63 is currently ranked third in terms of distance.
The flight log of this last mission states that it lasted 143 seconds. During this time, Ingenuity successfully climbed 39 feet (12 m) above the ground and reached a top speed of approximately 14.1 mph (22.7 km/h). The figures in question are not record numbers; maximums for these categories are 169.5 seconds, 66 ft (20 m) altitude, and 22.4 mph (36 km/h) speed, as reported in the flight log.
In February 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully delivered Ingenuity to the large Jezero Crater on Mars, which extends 28 miles (45 kilometers). Ingenuity, separated from Perseverance, uses its own battery for a heater that keeps the interior at about 45°F (7°C) even at -130°F (-90°C) on Mars.
The helicopter’s original purpose was to demonstrate that powered flight is possible on Mars, even with the planet’s sparse atmosphere. This was successfully demonstrated by Ingenuity over five flights in the spring of 2021. After that, NASA approved the continuation of the mission, with the helicopter taking over the Perseverance scout role. His duties include examination for signs of life and collection of samples.
Banner image: An illustration depicting NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying on the Red Planet. Credit NASA