Ingenuity flies farther and faster than ever on third test flight
NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter has again set new records, flying farther and faster than ever on its third test flight on the Red Planet. Taking off from Wright Brothers Field in Jezero Crater on April 25 at 4:31 am EDT, the robotic rotorcraft reached an altitude of 16 ft (5 m) before flying downrange for 164 ft (50 m) at a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 m/s).
The latest flight by Ingenuity is particularly important because the craft exceeded the performance it demonstrated in tests back on Earth. This is because the Martian environment could only be approximated inside depressurized test chambers, which were too small to allow the helicopter to fly horizontally or maneuver properly for farther than 1.6 ft (50 cm).
The 80-second third flight was equally important for the camera system. Ingenuity has an onboard color camera, which it used to take aerial images of Mars for the second time, the first being on the craft's the second flight, and a monochrome navigation camera that it uses for image recognition to help the craft navigate autonomously. Because Ingenuity never reached high speed on Earth, NASA engineers weren't certain that the algorithm would be able to properly process the input from the camera and track ground features.
In addition to problems with the algorithms, another hazard that Ingenuity faces is dust, which can not only obscure its vision, but could also coat its solar panels, causing it to lose power. However, the little panels are tilted and feathered to allow winds to blow as much accumulated dust away as fast as possible.
As with the previous two flights, the Perseverance rover acted as a telemetry relay back to Mission Control, and transmitted the large image files back over time to be reconstructed as video. In addition, it recorded the flight using its Mastcam-Z imager.
A fourth test is expected in a few days.
"Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing," says 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 video below recaps Ingenuity's third flight.