NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity has now flown nine times on the Red Planet, letting mission engineers test a host of capabilities that could pave the way for more Martian choppers.
Ingenuity made its ninth flight on Mars on Monday (July 5), when it remained aloft for 166.4 seconds and flew as fast as 16 feet (5 meters) per second, according to a tweet from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which oversees the project.
Before the flight, NASA announced that the little aircraft would attempt new feats on this sortie, including taking a shortcut over rocky terrain unsafe for the helicopter's much larger companion, the Perseverance rover, mission personnel wrote in a July 2 statement.
The Ingenuity helicopter is a technology demonstration project that trekked to Mars tucked away in Perseverance's belly and arrived on the Red Planet on Feb. 18. The rover deployed the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper in early April for what was planned to be a five-flight, one-month mission. Ingenuity made history on April 19 when it executed the first powered flight on Mars.
But as Ingenuity aced flight after flight, NASA extended the little helicopter's mission, setting the experimental aircraft to keep pace with Perseverance as the rover begins its geology and astrobiology work, the heart of the mission.
As capable as Perseverance is, however, the rover faces limitations in terms of where it can safely explore, and that's what inspired Ingenuity's newest flight, which comes two weeks after the helicopter's most recent sortie.
"Perseverance is currently at the eastern edge of a scientifically interesting region called 'Séítah,' which is characterized by sandy ripples that could be very challenging terrain for wheeled vehicles like the rover," the helicopter's team wrote in the statement outlining plans for the ninth flight.
"Rather than continuing to skip ahead of the rover, however, we will now attempt to do something that only an aerial vehicle at Mars could accomplish — take a shortcut straight across a portion of the Séítah region and land on a plain to the south. On the way, we plan to take color aerial images of the rocks and ripples that we pass over."
NASA has not yet published the full statistics and image collection from the flight. Data from Ingenuity must pass first to Perseverance, then to one of the fleet of satellites orbiting Mars, then to Earth.
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