NASA’s Mars helicopter has completed its third successful flight on the Martian surface.
According to a NASA status update, the Ingenuity helicopter took to the skies again on Sunday. The agency said that Ingenuity was able to fly “faster and farther” than any of its tests on Earth — which is a monumental achievement.
“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” said Dave Lavery, the program executive for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Headquarters, in the update. “With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions.”
Need for Speed
Ingenuity reached an altitude of 16 feet during its third flight before flying 64 feet across the Martian surface (roughly half the length of a football field). The craft topped out at 6.6 feet per second, or 4.5 miles per hour.
While it may not appear to be much, that is faster than any speed it has ever achieved during its Earth tests or previous lateral flight on Mars. It’s also the furthest distance the craft has ever flown.
Capture the Moment
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover was nearby to capture video of the Ingenuity helicopter as it made yet another record-breaking flight, much like a proud parent at their child’s music recital. Within the next few days, parts of the video will be sent back to Earth, and it is expected to show much of the helicopter’s third flight.
As it flew over the Martian surface, Ingenuity was able to capture a great photo with its onboard black-and-white navigation camera. Take a look at the following:
While the image is cool, it also represents a significant achievement for the helicopter: it can successfully process images from the navigation camera while flying over a longer distance.
Remember that the helicopter had never flown at these speeds or distances before, so NASA wasn’t sure it could do it.
“This is the first time we’ve seen the algorithm for the camera running over a long distance,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at JPL. “You can’t do this inside a test chamber.”
Not ones to rest on its laurels, NASA is already planning a fourth flight for Ingenuity in the coming days.
READ MORE: An Interactive Map Shows Exactly Where NASA’s Rover Perseverance Is
Maybe future rovers will offer a landing pad, equipped with latchdowns and a charging port, to act as an ‘aircraft carrier’ of sorts, to be used by a scout craft on future missions.