NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter sets new distance record

It has been revealed that NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter set a new all-time distance record during the month of December.

According to the mission’s flight log, the 1.8kg Ingenuity Mars helicopter covered 705 metres of the red planet’s ground on 20 December alone. This beats the old record of 704m, which was achieved in April 2022.

The helicopter also reached 22.4 mph during its 20 December activity, tying its Martian speed record.

What is the mission of the Ingenuity Mars helicopter?

Ingenuity landed with NASA’s Perseverance rover in February 2021. Ever since, the two robots have been exploring Mars’ Jezero Crater, which harboured a lake and a river delta in the ancient past.

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter was designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet’s thin atmosphere. The rotorcraft proved this was possible over the course of five flights in the spring of 2021.

NASA then granted a mission extension, during which Ingenuity serves as a scout for its larger cousin.

The chopper has now racked up 65 flights on its extended mission. The 20 December hop was Ingenuity’s 69th overall, followed by another on 22 December.

These figures show that, overall, the mission has been a success. The Ingenuity Mars helicopter is no longer a technology demonstration. Now, NASA is using it as a scout for Perseverance, and the goal is to keep the rotorcraft ahead of the rover.

However, the successful scouting has led to communication disruptions.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing for the mission

Despite its latest victory, it hasn’t always been a smooth sailing ride for all of the rotorcraft’s flights.

NASA lost contact with Ingenuity back in April 2023 during its 52nd flight. The flight was successful, but NASA lost contact with the rotorcraft as it descended back to the surface to land.

The communication dropout was expected due to an interfering hill between Ingenuity and Perseverance, which handles all of the craft’s communications.

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter also suffered another setback on 3 May 2022. Seasonal dust blocked the rotorcraft’s solar arrays, and Ingenuity couldn’t fully recharge its batteries. One of the machine’s instruments went into a low-power state and reset its clocks.

Despite this, the communications drop-out didn’t last long. NASA personnel instructed Perseverance to continually listen for Ingenuity’s signal until communications were re-established a couple of days later on 5 May.

Overall, Ingenuity was never meant to be a working scout, so drop-outs are to be expected due to it being well outside its planned mission parameters. In future missions, these communication dropouts will be avoided as much as possible.

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