Taking Flight On Another World
Global Aviator|August 2021
The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is a technology demonstration model to test powered, controlled flight on another world for the first time. It hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover. Once the rover reached a suitable "airfield" location, it released Ingenuity to the surface so it could perform a series of test flights over a 30-Martian-day experimental window.

Ingenuity, which became the first machine to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on another world, took off for the fifth time. It made a successful one-way trip to another flat patch of Mars more than the length of a football field away. The spot where it landed will serve as its base of operations for the next month at least, beginning a new phase of the mission where it will serve as a scout for its larger robotic companion, the Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity retraced the course of its previous flight, heading south for 423 feet at an altitude of 16 feet. But instead of turning around, it stopped and climbed higher, to 33 feet, to take some pictures of the area. It then set down, 108 seconds after it had taken off.

Design

Ingenuity is a small robotic helicopter operating on Mars as part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission. On 19 April, 2021, it successfully completed the first powered controlled flight by an aircraft on a planet besides Earth, taking off vertically, hovering and landing. With nine successful flights as of 6 July, 2021, the solarcharged battery-powered coaxial drone rotorcraft is serving as a technology and operations demonstration for the potential use of flying probes on future missions to Mars and other worlds, and will have the potential to scout locations of interest and support planned driving routes for the Perseverance rover.

Ingenuity was intended to fly up to five times during its 30-day test campaign scheduled early in the rover's mission. Ingenuity, which can travel up to 50 m (160 ft) downrange and then back to the starting area, uses autonomous control during its short flights, which are telerobotically planned and scripted by operators at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

It communicates directly with the Perseverance rover after each landing.

Ingenuity travelled to Mars attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover, arriving at the Octavia E. Butler Landing site in the Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. It deployed on 3 April, and after unloading the drone Perseverance drove approximately 100 m (330 ft) away to allow it a safe buffer zone in which it made its first flight.

Ingenuity is designed to be a technology demonstrator by JPL to assess whether this technology can fly safely, and provide better mapping and guidance that would give future mission controllers more information to help with travel routes planning and hazard avoidance, as well as identifying points of interest for the rover. The helicopter is designed to provide overhead images with approximately ten times the resolution of orbital images, and will provide images of features that may be occluded from the cameras of the Perseverance rover.

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