NASA announced Friday that Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight, which saw the small helicopter ‘fly farther and faster than ever before.’
The $85 million drone traveled 872 feet (266 meters) at a height of 16 feet (5 meters) for two minutes.
The American space agency received the data downlink at 1:39pm ET that showed the copter took off from ‘Wright Brothers Field’ under the watchful gaze of the Perseverance rover at 10:12am ET.
Perseverance, which sat some 210 feet away, snapped a picture of its travel companion’s fourth flight through the thin atmosphere on Mars.
‘Success. #MarsHelicopter completed 4th flight, going farther & faster than ever before. It also took more photos as it flew over the Martian surface. We expect those images will come down in a later data downlink, but @NASAPerseverance’s Hazcam caught part of the flight,’ NASA’s JPL shared on Twitter.
The flight was initially set for Thursday, but the data downlink showed Ingenuity did not transition to flight mode – meaning it never left the ground.
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NASA received the data downlink at 1:39pm ET that showed the copter took off from ‘Wright Brothers Field’ under the watchful gaze of the Perseverance rover at 10:12am ET (pictured)
‘Ingenuity loves Mars,’ project manager MiMi Aung told reporters. ‘It takes off and I almost feel the freedom that it feels.’
The space agency said it would continue to push the four-pound copter to its limit in each subsequent test, this time almost doubling the speed of the third flight.
Due to delays in sending data from the 187 million miles between Jezero crater on Mars and NASA JPL in California, the team waited in suspense for three hours or so before receiving confirmation of the successful flight.
The small craft achieved all of its goals including flight duration, distance and speed, in the first three trips – so the fourth ‘pushed the envelope’ beyond what the small rotorcraft was designed to achieve by NASA JPL engineers.
The flight was initially set for Thursday, but the data downlink showed Ingenuity did not transition to flight mode – meaning it never left the ground
The small craft achieved all of its goals including flight duration, distance and speed, in the first three trips – so the fourth ‘pushed the envelope’ beyond what the small rotorcraft was designed to achieve by NASA JPL engineers (pictured is the copter’s third flight)
Ingenuity was set to soar up to 16 feet above the Martian airfield, head south over rocks, sand ripples and impact craters for 872 feet and used its navigation camera to collect images of the surface every four feet.
As it flew, the rotorcraft was to have used its downward-looking navigation camera to collect images of the surface until it traveled a total of 436 feet downrange.
INGENUITY: THE SMALL ROTORCRAFT THAT TOOK TO THE MARTIAN SKY
Ingenuity was designed as a technology demonstrator rather than carrying any of its own science experiments or equipment.
It rode to Mars attached to the belly of the SUV-size Perseverance rover.
The helicopter took off from the ‘Wright Brothers Field’ on Monday April 19, making history as the first powered flight on another world.
For the first flight, the helicopter took off, climbed to about 10ft above the ground, hovered in the air briefly, completed a turn, and then landed.
It is built to be light and strong to survive the harsh Martian environment.
It weighs just under 4lb and is only 19 inches tall as it has to fly in the much thinner atmosphere – about 1% that of the atmosphere found on Earth.
It can fly up to 980ft, go up to 15ft in the sky and can spend about 90 seconds in the air before landing.
The rotors are 4ft in diameter and the craft includes solar panels that charge lithium-ion batteries.
It has a 30 day lifespan, with a total of five flights expected in that time.
Then, Ingenuity was set to hover and take images with its color high-definition camera before heading back to Wright Brothers Field to land.
Perseverance watched the fourth flight unfold from about 210 feet away, as it did with the previous flights.
On its fifth flight in another week or so, the four-pound (1.8-kilogram) chopper will move to a new airfield on Mars, allowing the rover to finally start focusing on its own rock-sampling mission.
The rover is seeking signs of ancient life at Jezero Crater, home to a lush lakebed and river delta billions of years ago.
A few hours before confirming the flight, NASA had announced Ingenuity is getting a promotion as an operation partner for Perseverance.
The helicopter is set to conduct aerial scouting over the surface of Mars, which will begin following its next two flights.
Friday’s announcement comes as the Perseverance rover is ahead of schedule with the thorough checkout of all vehicle systems since touching down February 19.
‘With the Mars Helicopter’s energy, telecommunications, and in-flight navigation systems performing beyond expectation, an opportunity arose to allow the helicopter to continue exploring its capabilities with an operations demonstration, without significantly impacting rover scheduling,’ NASA shared in a statement.
The operations demonstration will begin in about two weeks with the helicopter’s sixth flight.
Until then, Ingenuity will be in a transitional phase that includes its fourth and fifth forays into Mars’ crimson skies.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said: ‘The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success.
‘Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team’s near-term science goals.’
The small craft achieved all of its goals including flight duration, distance and speed, in the first three trips – so the fourth will ‘push the envelope’ beyond what the small rotorcraft was designed to achieve by NASA JPL engineers.
Flying on Mars is particularly challenging due to the fact its atmosphere is just one percent of Earth’s at ground level, and while the lower gravity, a third of that on Earth, helps, it is only a partial offset against the thinner atmosphere.
This means that in order to fly, the helicopter has to be ultra-light and rotate its blades extremely fast in order to achieve lift.
The drone was designed as a technical demonstration to see if a flying component would be viable and possible for future planetary science and exploration missions.
It has no science equipment on board, beyond a navigation camera and a horizon camera in full color.
Ingenuity made history on April 19 when it became the first powered craft to take off and land on another world, something NASA dubbed its ‘Wright Brothers moment’.
Ingenuity was set to soar up to 16 feet above the Martian airfield, head south over rocks, sand ripples and impact craters for 276 feet and used its navigation camera to collect images of the surface every four feet
Previously flights saw Ingenuity take off from the Martian airfield and soar 10 feet in the air
It travelled up 10 feet into the air, hovered and then landed back on Martian soil on the landing site the agency has since named after the famed airplane inventors.
For the second flight Ingenuity went higher and further than during the first, travelling 16ft into the air, hovering and accelerating seven feet sideways.
The third flight pushed this a step further, also going up 16 feet, then travelling 164 feet at 4.5 miles per hour, before landing back down on the surface of Mars.
‘From millions of miles away, Ingenuity checked all the technical boxes we had at NASA about the possibility of powered, controlled flight at the Red Planet,’ said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
‘Future Mars exploration missions can now confidently consider the added capability an aerial exploration may bring to a science mission.’
A few hours before confirming the flight, NASA had announced Ingenuity is getting a promotion as an operation partner for Perseverance. The helicopter is set to conduct aerial scouting over the surface of Mars, which will begin following its next two flights
This black-and-white image was taken by the navigation camera aboard NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter during its third flight
The Ingenuity team had three objectives to accomplish to declare the technology demo a complete success.
They completed the first objective about six years ago when the team demonstrated in the 25-foot-diameter space simulator chamber of JPL that powered, controlled flight in the thin atmosphere of Mars was more than a theoretical exercise.
The second objective – to fly on Mars – was met when Ingenuity flew for the first time on April 19.
The team surpassed the last major objective with the third flight, when Ingenuity rose 16 feet, flying downrange 164 feet and back at a top speed of 6.6 feet per second – even snapping a photo of Perseverance along the way.