It’s the same on Mars as here – just when you get used to your job, the bosses go and change things.
At least that’s our reading about the situation in Jezero Crater, where the Mars Ingenuity helicopter has just upgraded and expanded its mission. During a press conference Friday morning, the ingenuity crew, joined by members of the Persistence Team and part of NASA’s brass, announced that the ingenuity had earned an additional 30 soles of flight time and would be moved from a mere “technology demonstrator” to operation demonstration phase. They also announced the fourth Ingenuity flight, which ended successfully today, covering 266 meters and staying in the air for 1
There are two main engines of mission extension. The first is that ingenuity has achieved all the technical goals set before it in terms of proving that a helicopter can fly in the atmosphere of Mars and operate autonomously. In doing so, ingenuity has gathered a large body of data that will inform the design of future UAVs for planetary research. But that alone would not be enough to justify extending the mission. Ingenuity has always been an add-on designed to take as few resources as possible from Perseverance’s main mission, which is to collect samples in search of ancient life on Mars. The plan was for the rover to stay close to ingenuity to support flight operations for 30 ashes, then head to the more interesting areas of Jezero Crater to explore and collect samples.
But as it turns out, the area around the Ingenuity operational zone, known as the Wright brothers’ field, is far more interesting to planetary scientists than originally expected, as revealed by Perseverance instruments. This allows the rover to stay in place. for now, take some samples and science and still maintain Ingenuity’s expanded mission.
We find this an exciting development and look forward to the data and images that come from the now overlapping missions of ingenuity and perseverance. To learn more about these amazing spaceships, check out our deep dives on the rover itself and its accompanying helicopter.