The Ingenuity helicopter proved it may fly on Mars. Now it has loftier targets. Having handed all its authentic engineering checks, the tiny spacecraft will now start a brand new job, supporting the Perseverance rover in its science mission.
“It’s like Ingenuity is graduating,” mentioned Ingenuity mission supervisor MiMi Aung of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in an information briefing on April 30.
The helicopter arrived at Mars with two primary targets: show that flight was doable on the Red Planet and present that it may return essential flight information to Earth. Those have been each achieved in Ingenuity’s first flight on April 19 after which surpassed because the helicopter flew farther, increased, and quicker on April 22 and April 25 (SN: 4/19/21).
The authentic plan was for Ingenuity to take as much as six flights whole, then floor itself endlessly as Perseverance drove away to do science. That was partly as a result of the Perseverance group anticipated to drive removed from the rover’s landing site seeking rocks which may protect indicators of previous Martian life (SN: 2/22/21).
“We thought we would be doing an intensive drive campaign in which the helicopter would not be able to keep up,” mentioned Perseverance mission scientist Ken Farley of Caltech within the briefing. “But based on the rocks we have seen in the area, we really wish to spend a considerable amount of time where we are.”
Ingenuity has additionally been performing surprisingly properly, Aung mentioned. The rover and the helicopter would possibly have the ability to talk from more than a kilometer aside, giving them each more flexibility.
Ingenuity took its fourth flight on April 30 to scout for a brand new launchpad. The fifth flight, to be scheduled after the group has examined the information, shall be a one-way journey to that new house.
After that, Ingenuity will swap into assist mode. Up till now, the Perseverance group has generously supported the helicopter, Aung mentioned. “The rover is primary going forward,” she mentioned.
The helicopter may have future flights in assist mode. The group says Ingenuity will scout potential scientific observations and rover routes from the sky, make 3-D digital elevation maps and check out locations a rover can’t go. “The lessons learned from that exercise will benefit future missions with aerial platforms tremendously,” Aung mentioned.
The group isn’t certain how the helicopter’s mission will finish. Ingenuity was designed to final simply 30 Martian days. The new assist part will prolong its mission by one other 30 days, except one thing goes incorrect earlier than then. “We don’t know how many freeze and thaw cycles it can go through before something breaks,” mentioned Ingenuity chief engineer Bob Balaram.
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