NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter is about to explore a new patch of the Red Planet.
Ingenuity is scheduled to make its fifth Martian flight today (May 7), a jaunt that will be unlike anything the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper has attempted so far.
If all goes according to plan, Ingenuity will lift off at 3:26 p.m. EDT (1926 GMT), climb to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) and then head south for 423 feet (129 m), following the same path it took a week ago on the 87-second flight number four. We won't know how things went for a while, though; data from Ingenuity isn't expected to start coming down to Earth until around 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT).
"But instead of turning around and heading back, we'll actually climb to a new height record of 33 feet (10 meters), where we can take some color (as well as black-and-white) images of the area," Josh Ravich, Ingenuity mechanical engineering lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, wrote in a blog post yesterday (May 6).
"After a total flight time of about 110 seconds, Ingenuity will land, completing its first one-way trip," Ravich added. "When it touches down at its new location, we will embark on a new demonstration phase — one where we exhibit what this new technology can do to assist other missions down the road."
Ingenuity landed with NASA's Perseverance rover inside Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18 and deployed from the six-wheeled robot's belly six weeks later.
The solar-powered helicopter is a technology demonstration designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on the Red Planet, and its mission was initially capped at five flights over a 30-day span. But NASA recently extended Ingenuity's operations into a new phase, during which the copter team will attempt to showcase the potential of rotorcraft to serve as scouts for Mars rovers, among other things.
"We are traveling to a new base because this is the direction Perseverance is going, and if we want to continue to demonstrate what can be done from an aerial perspective, we have to go where the rover goes," Ravich wrote.
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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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. 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.