On Saturday, December 17, 2022, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made its 37th successful flyby over the surface of Mars, the third this month. A short flight was made to test its new capabilities after receiving a software update. The flight itself lasted only seconds, and the distance covered was 62 meters. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced the successful completion of the short mission.
The new software was remotely installed on the helicopter last month. The new capabilities allow Ingenuity to avoid hazards during landing and use digital altitude maps for navigation, mission team members said.
Ingenuity’s bold mission
The helicopter landed at the bottom of the Martian Jezero crater in February 2021 with NASA’s Perseverance rover, which is searching for signs of life on the Red Planet and collecting samples for a future return mission to Earth.
Ingenuity’s main mission was to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars, despite its very rarefied atmosphere, which is only 1% as dense as the Earth’s. The helicopter completed its primary mission with five successful flights in the spring of 2021 before transitioning to its extended mission in which it serves as a scout for Perseverance.
Achievements of Ingenuity
According to the mission’s flight log, the helicopter traveled a total of 7,479 m and stayed in the air for almost 62 minutes during its 37 flights over the Martian surface. According to team members, these numbers will increase as the aircraft remains in good condition and the upgrade will further keep it out of trouble.
Ingenuity’s success paves the way for future helicopter flights around Mars. JPL is developing concepts for larger, more ambitious Mars aircraft that would, for example, collect scientific data. This decade, NASA plans to launch two more Ingenuity-like vehicles to help deliver Perseverance samples to Earth as part of the Mars Sample Return mission.
Earlier we reported on how an unexpected “passenger” ended up on board the Ingenuity.