After proving its ability to fly higher and farther with its fourth flight that began last Friday, the tiny helicopter will prepare to show how Mars rovers can help such as persistence in exploring new locations and areas inaccessible to wheeled robots.
Ingenuity, which became the first helicopter to fly on another world earlier this month, is initially set to retire forever when the flight demonstration stage ends next week, after completing five flights. But the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory agreed to another round of testing because Perseverance’s post-landing health checks are way ahead of schedule – and Ingenuity isn’t ready to put its carbon fiber rotor blades to rest yet.
For the first (and current) test phase, the four-pound helicopter demonstrated that lift could be achieved in the thin Martian atmosphere, opening up a new mode of transport for planet exploration. The next test phase will be slightly different and more ambitious than the first: Creativity will monitor specific science targets on Mars, explore interesting sites for persistence, and look for new potential flight areas for future flights.
“The lessons learned from this exercise will greatly benefit future missions with aerial platforms,” said Mi Ong, the helicopter project manager, adding that the vehicle’s test capabilities will be enhanced with each flight. This stage will contain only one or two trips, spaced apart. But engineers indicated that more could be planned depending on the helicopter’s performance.
Perseverance, which acts as a creative communication vessel from a distance of a few hundred feet, it will not use the cameras on board to take pictures of the helicopter as it does in the first stage.
Since taking off from the belly of perseverance on April 4, Ingenuity has successfully conducted four flight tests so far, each increasingly complex: the first flight was a 40-second flyby 10 feet above the ground, the third flight soared 16 feet, then pressurized 164 feet across its flight zone at a speed of approximately 4.5 mph.
Ingenuity made its fourth flight last Friday, and engineers are currently analyzing datasets.
The Perseverance landed brilliantly on Mars on February 18th. The primary mission of the portable craft is to search for signs of fossil life and fill soil samples in cigar-sized tubes to be left scattered around the surface of Mars.
A future portable “fetch” vehicle will recover these tubes sometime in the next decade or so. The recent decision to collect these soil samples near the Ingenuity Flying Zone helped NASA make the call to keep creativity in service – all of a sudden it becomes possible to make the perseverance to keep helicopter health possible.
Ingenuity’s fourth test flight proved to travel farther and faster distances, and served as an expedition for the flight area that it would use in its next test phase. Its fifth flight, scheduled for the coming days, will be a one-way trip to that new location.