NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter logs another successful flight on Mars

Published April 23, 2021, 10:28 AM

by Xinhua

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter successfully completed its second Mars flight on Thursday, achieving a higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement, according to NASA.

Image taken by cameras aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars, April 5, 2021 shows Mars helicopter Ingenuity. (NASA / MANILA BULLETIN)

Ingenuity took off again at 5:33 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The new flight, following the first one on Monday, lasted 51.9 seconds, and the helicopter climbed to 5 meters.

After the helicopter hovered briefly, its flight control system performed a slight tilt, allowing some of the thrust from the counter-rotating rotors to accelerate the craft sideways for 2 meters.

“The helicopter came to a stop, hovered in place, and made turns to point its camera in different directions,” said Havard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.

“Then it headed back to the center of the airfield to land. It sounds simple, but there are many unknowns regarding how to fly a helicopter on Mars. That’s why we’re here – to make these unknowns known,” Grip said.

“So far, the engineering telemetry we have received and analyzed tell us that the flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate,” said Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL.

According to NASA, operating an aircraft in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying one on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere with only about 1 percent of the density at Earth’s surface.

Each second of each flight provides an abundance of Mars in-flight data for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back on Earth.

NASA has gained its first practical experience operating a rotorcraft remotely on Mars, said the agency. These datasets will prove invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

Ingenuity arrived at Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover. The helicopter is a technology demonstration with a planned test flight duration of up to 30 Martian days.

Deployed to the surface of Jezero Crater on April 3, Ingenuity is currently in its 30 Martian days flight test window. The helicopter made its first Martian flight on Monday, marking the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.

As the data and imagery indicate that the Mars helicopter not only survived the second flight but also flew as anticipated, the Ingenuity team is considering how best to expand the profiles of its next flights to acquire additional aeronautical data from the first successful flight tests on another world, according to NASA.