NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flew faster and farther on Sunday than it had in any previous flights or any tests on Earth. The device flew 50 meters, over half the length of a football field, at a top speed of 6.6 feet-per-second, or about 4.5 miles-per-hour.
“[Sunday’s] flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” said Dave Lavery, the project’s program executive for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions.”
The 80-second journey was the longest flight so far for Ingenuity. The take-off and landing were captured by the Perseverance Rover’s cameras.
In the video, Ingenuity takes off and then quickly moves out of view. Move ahead another 45 seconds and Ingenuity is back and lands.
Its second flight, on April 22, lasted about 50 seconds, and was the first time the helicopter moved sideways.
Ingenuity’s first flight, on April 19, was a quick up-and-down hover test that lasted about 30 seconds.
Teams are using the test flights to push the helicopter’s instruments to their limits. The flight engineers have been asking the device to capture more photos on its color camera while also using its black-and-white navigation camera to track the surface below.
“This is the first time we’ve seen the algorithm for the camera running over a long distance,” said MiMi Aung, the helicopter’s project manager. “You can’t do this inside a test chamber.”
The Ingenuity team is looking ahead to planning the helicopter’s fourth flight in the next few days.