A new video shows NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity as it completed its latest daring brief flight hop in the thinning atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The 23-second flight saw the little Ingenuity helicopter, a partner on the larger Perseverance rover mission, hop 16 feet (5 meters) high and make a sideways maneuver before touching down. At Space.com, we put together images from the flight to create this full video of Ingenuity's 14th flight that captures the drone's shadow on the Martian terrain below, along with its rotors, which were spinning more rapidly than ever before.
The 14th Ingenuity flight on Sunday (Oct. 24) was shorter and flew lower than past ones, because engineers were testing the drone's ability to cope during normal seasonal conditions that see thinning atmosphere of Mars. As temperatures at the chopper's Jezero Crater landing site get warmer, the aircraft's rotors must turn faster to keep it in the air.
In September, when NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was planning the flight, they said the rotor would need to spin at roughly 2,700 revolutions per minute (RPM), compared with past flights where the drone achieved 2,537 RPM. The greater rotation rate was meant to cope with the thinning atmosphere.
Ingenuity is meant to be a test of flying on Mars, and it has far surpassed its original flight plan. After completing several short hops and longer flights, the drone is well into an extended mission in which it is starting to scout ahead for Perseverance, which is examining a set of layered rocks right now in Jezero Crater.
Future Martian missions will benefit from drones, NASA has said, which have advantages over rovers, landers and potential spacesuited astronauts in that the helicopters can get context from high in the air and they can examine features that may be dangerous to approach on the terrain, such as deep craters or steep hills.
This 14th flight of Ingenuity was originally expected on Sept. 18, but was delayed due to an anomaly found during a pre-flight checkout. Ingenuity found a problem with two of its flight-control servo motors, which adjust the rotor pitch for the helicopter to change position and orientation in mid-air.
Testing on Sept. 21 and Sept. 23 did not see the issue come up again, but Ingenuity stayed grounded for nearly an Earth month because Mars experienced solar conjunction, an event during which the orbit of the two planets puts the sun in between for several weeks. This can disrupt communications between the planets, and Mars missions typically suspend most work as a precaution.