NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS via AP
NASA is taking extra time to test the performance of its groundbreaking Ingenuity helicopter, which completed its first flight to Mars less than two weeks ago. Since then, the device has performed a total of four flights. If all goes well after the fifth trip, NASA says it plans to begin the “next phase” of testing.
“The demonstration of ingenuity technology has been a stunning success,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement on Friday.
“As ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to take advantage of future aerial platforms, while prioritizing and moving forward with the near scientific goals of the Perseverance rover team,” he added.
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, which landed on February 18, brought the helicopter to the Red Planet. Since then, the rover has been exploring the planet’s terrain near the landing site, and its success has allowed more time to test the Ingenuity helicopter, NASA said.
Head south to your first study area and guess who’s marking? #MarsHelicopter and I will hit the trail as it enters a new phase to show how future rovers and aerial explorers can work together. https://t.co/oYK5sydeN4
– NASA Mars Rover for Permanence (@NASAPersevere) April 30, 2021
The purpose of the rover is to study the rocks and soil found on the planet, which could show whether the previous life existed there 3.5 billion years ago. The mission will take two Earth years, coming up to one year on Mars.
Remarkably, NASA announced on April 21 that rover technology effectively managed to produce a small amount of breathing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.
The original task of the Ingenuity helicopter was to show its flying ability, given the differences in atmospheric pressure and gravity found on the planet compared to Earth.
NASA / Getty images
“The transition from ingenuity to technology demonstration to demonstration of operations brings with it a new envelope in flight,” NASA said.
“There will be more precise maneuvering, greater use of its aerial surveillance capabilities and greater risk in general,” he added.
Additional tests will be conducted in the next few months, ending no later than August.
While the first helicopter flight was only 10 feet above the ground, each trip increased dramatically. On the fourth flight, the helicopter rose to 16 feet in the air and made a two-way trip of 872 feet across the planet.
Additional power in the updates comes when looking at the images taken by the cameras on top of the rover Perseverance, which allows people on Earth to witness the helicopter flight over the red and orange stony desert floor.