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Ingenuity Mars helicopter gearing up for 11th Red Planet flight

NASA's Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the floor of Jezero Crater.
NASA's Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the floor of Jezero Crater. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity is getting set for its 11th off-Earth flight, which could happen early Thursday morning (Aug. 5).

The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity landed with the Perseverance rover inside Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. Six weeks later, the little rotorcraft deployed from Perseverance's belly and began a month-long flight campaign to demonstrate that aerial exploration is feasible on the Red Planet.

Ingenuity aced all five flights during that stretch, so NASA granted the project an extended mission that's focused on showcasing the scouting potential of Mars helicopters. The chopper has completed five extended-mission sorties so far, and it's about to make another one.

Video: Watch Ingenuity explore intriguing 'Raised Ridges' in new video

This annotated image of Mars’ Jezero Crater depicts the ground track and waypoints of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s planned 11th flight, which is scheduled to take place no earlier than the early morning hours of Aug. 5, 2021. 

This annotated image of Mars’ Jezero Crater depicts the ground track and waypoints of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s planned 11th flight, which is scheduled to take place no earlier than the early morning hours of Aug. 5, 2021.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

The Ingenuity team is prepping for the helicopter's next mission, which will be its 11th overall on the Red Planet. The flight will lift off at about 12:33 p.m. local Mars time on a coming day, perhaps as early as tomorrow (Aug. 5), Josh Ravich, Ingenuity mechanical engineering lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, wrote in an update published today (Aug. 4). If tomorrow is indeed a go, that would put takeoff at 12:50 a.m. EDT (0450 GMT), he added.

Ingenuity will climb to an altitude of 39 feet (12 meters), then cruise to a new airfield about 1,260 feet (385 m) away, reaching a top speed of about 11 mph (18 kph) in the process. The flight will last about 130 seconds, Ravich wrote.

Though Ingenuity will snap some photos during Flight 11, the main purpose is to get the little chopper to that new airfield, from which it can further explore South Séítah, part of a strange region of sandy ripples whose rough terrain is difficult for the large rover to traverse.

"As requested by the Perseverance science team," Ravich wrote, the new site "will become the staging area for at least one reconnaissance flight of the geologically intriguing South Séítah area. Wish us luck and see you in South Séítah!"

Perseverance, meanwhile, is preparing for a big milestone in its mission: the collection of its first Mars sample. The car-sized rover will eventually grab dozens of Red Planet samples, which will be hauled to Earth by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign, perhaps as early as 2031.

Perseverance is currently in an area called "Crater Floor Fractured Rough," which features rocks that the mission team thinks are as old as Jezero Crater itself. But the rover's handlers plan to cruise over and investigate nearby South Séítah, if possible, in the relatively near future.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.