NASA extends Mars helicopter Ingenuity's high-flying mission on Red Planet


NASA informed on April 30 that NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity will keep flying for an additional 30 days (at least), on an extended mission that will test the chopper's ability to be a scout. Ingenuity was originally slated to operate for 30 days on Mars, conducting a technology-demonstrating mission designed to test whether or not powered, the controlled flight is possible on Mars. However, with the success of its first three flights, NASA has decided to extend the helicopter mission an additional 30 sols and shift it into an operations demonstration phase that will test the additional capabilities of the craft. (One sol, or Mars day, is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.)

Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, said, after assessing the Perseverance science strategies, there's room to expand the Ingenuity demonstration into a new phase.

MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said, for Ingenuity to now entering a new operational demonstration phase, our team has been extremely happy and proud. It's like Ingenuity is graduating from the test demo phase to, now, the new demo phase, where we can show that how rotorcraft can be used.

Aung spoke as her team awaited word from Ingenuity of its fourth flight on Mars, which occurred earlier today. That flight was a success and Ingenuity's fastest and farthest one yet.

On April 19, Ingenuity took its first flight, rising of the Red Planet's surface, hovering and landing safely back down. This historic event was followed by three additional flights including one just this morning that went seamlessly, showcasing the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) craft's abilities, which are impressive given Mars' thin atmosphere.

However, the flights thus far have required Perseverance to stay nearby. The rover has been capturing imagery of the flights and serving as a communications link between Ingenuity and mission control. Ingenuity's mission was therefore set to stop after 30 days and up to five flights so that Perseverance would be able to move onto its own science mission.


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