O Ingenuity helicopter and Perseverance rover arrived on Mars in February 2021 and since then they have helped NASA better understand the Red Planet’s surface. The helicopter made history in April this year, make the first flight across the Martian sky and it hasn’t stopped since. The mini helicopter surprised with its resistance to the adverse conditions of the planet, recalling that NASA had planned only about six flights to be carried out in its first month.
What is certain is that almost a year after its debut in the skies of Mars, Ingenuity has already carried out 21 successful flights and for now, NASA intends to continue doing more experiments. The US space agency has presented a plan for its second year of operations and intends to extend flights until at least September.
NASA says that in the coming months, Ingenuity will continue to support the Perseverance rover in exploring the river delta in Jezero Crater. But in its flights, the helicopter will continue to test its own capabilities to provide data that will be used in the design of future air vehicles for navigating Mars. Ingenuity’s 21st flight was the first of three needed to cross the northwestern part of a region known as “Seitah”, preparing to reach its next site of exploration.
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“Less than a year ago, we didn’t even know if it was possible to control an air vehicle on Mars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science missions. “We are now planning Ingenuity’s participation in Perseverance’s second scientific campaign.” He adds that this transformation of “mindset” in such a short time is fantastic, being considered one of the most historic milestones in the exploration of air and space.
The new stage of Ingenuity’s operations will be very different from the first relatively flat areas of the planet of the first flights. The river area rises about 40 meters above the crater and is filled with jagged cliffs, loose rock, and sand-filled pockets that can make it difficult for the rover to move or the helicopter to land. NASA says the delta promises geological revelations, possibly evidence that determines the presence of microscopic life on the planet billions of years ago.
Ingenuity received software upgrades that helped reduce flight errors, not only during flight, but also when landing safely. Another major update released the altitude limit for helicopters which was 15 meters. Another update will allow the device to change gears during flight. In the future, NASA may add terrain elevation to navigation filters and improve the ability to avoid obstacles during landings.
The next flight is scheduled for March 19 and is expected to be a complex trip, approximately 350 meters and including the contour of a hill. After this flight, the team will determine whether two or three additional flights will be required to complete the exploration of this region.