Ever feel like no matter how far you fly you end up in the same spot? Ingenuity certainly does. The helicopter that has been making dozens of headlines lately for all of the firsts it is achieving as part of its mission on Mars so far has only returned back to its original take-off point. Named Wright Brothers Field, after the brothers who first brought controlled powered flight to Earth, it has been the site of all of Ingenuity’s firsts so far. But now the basic science of Ingenuity’s mission is over and it is time to start moving on, which it did last week to a new “air field”.
That air field hasn’t yet received a name, but is located about 130m (450 ft) south of the Wright Brothers field. Ingenuity first scouted the area and found it flat and clear of debris on one of its four earlier flights. The small helicopter set another altitude record of 10m (33ft) on the 108 second flight. While it wasn’t Ingenuity’s farthest flight (which clocked in at 266 meters round-trip), it was the first time the helicopter set down on terrain it had only scouted previously.
Video of Ingenuity’s control room during its fifth flight on May 7th
Credit: JPL YouTube Channel
Ingenuity’s primary mission completed with data from five flights under its belt. Now the NASA team commanding it has switched into an operational demonstration mode. They want to prove how practical it is to send these kinds of flying robotic explorers to other worlds. And if the extended length of other exploration missions on Mars are any indication, it will have a while to go yet. However, Ingenuity does have two constraints – it has relatively small solar panels to recharge its battery, and it has to stay close to Perseverance for it’s communications and controls.
Currently Perseverance itself is driving south in short bursts to complete its primary scientific mission and collect Martian samples that will be picked up by a later sample return mission. So Ingenuity will occasionally hop along with its rover hub to maintain contact with its handlers at NASA.
The now famous image of Ingenuity’s shadow on Mars it lifted off in late April.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
With its primary job completed, any additional data the tiny helicopter is able to collect is an added bonus. While it’s unclear how many more such hops Ingenuity is capable of, it has already earned its place in the pantheon of great robotic space explorers.
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Ingenuity in flight on May 7th during its fifth excursion. Image was captured by one of Perseverance’s navigation cameras.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech