Space

Ingenuity helicopter makes first controlled horizontal flight on Mars

Ingenuity helicopter makes fir...
Ingenuity in flight as seen by Perseverance
Ingenuity in flight as seen by Perseverance
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The Ingenuity team watching the second flight
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The Ingenuity team watching the second flight
Ingenuity snapped this photo of its own shadow while in flight
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Ingenuity snapped this photo of its own shadow while in flight
Ingenuity in flight as seen by Perseverance
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Ingenuity in flight as seen by Perseverance
View gallery - 3 images

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history again today by flying horizontally for the first time. At 5:33 am EDT, the tissue-box-sized rotorcraft lifted off from what's been dubbed "Wright Brother's Field" on the Red Planet and flew for 51.9 seconds before descending safely to the ground.

Today's flight comes on the heels of Ingenuity's first flight that took place on April 19, as the little helicopter began its 30-day test program. As with the first, the second flight was carried out autonomously due to the minutes-long delay for signals to travel to and from Earth. During the flight, the Perseverance rover relayed telemetry data back to Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, and recorded video for later transmission.

Ingenuity reached an altitude of 16 feet (5 m), then tilted its rotors by 5 degrees, generating lateral thrust that propelled the craft for a distance of 7 feet ( 2 m). It then hovered in place and turned in different directions for its onboard camera, then returned to the center of the field before descending for a soft landing.

Ingenuity snapped this photo of its own shadow while in flight
Ingenuity snapped this photo of its own shadow while in flight

NASA calls Ingenuity a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration because, though it is supported by Perseverance, it isn't seen as a key part of the main mission. This is because NASA engineers have had to work with many unknowns, as well as the known problems of flying on Mars, including the tenuous atmosphere, low gravity, and freezing nighttime temperatures.

Having survived two successful flights, the Ingenuity team is now looking at more ambitious goals for later tests.

"So far, the engineering telemetry we have received and analyzed tell us that the flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate," says Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. "We have two flights of Mars under our belts, which means that there is still a lot to learn during this month of Ingenuity."

Check out Ingenuity's second flight:

Ingenuity second flight

Source: NASA

View gallery - 3 images
6 comments
Graeme S
very stable hover, well done
Pierre Collet
Didn't see the horizontal movement (unless it was done facing the Perseverance camera...
michael_dowling
Pierre Collet Yes,I was expecting a little more. Looked just like the original flight. I don't understand why they need a drone. The lander can just go and investigate interesting areas scouted out by the orbiting imagers,which have hi-res cameras. Without having to lug the drone to Mars,more experiments could have be carried.
GeoffreyR.Gunning
I wonder if it makes any detectable sound at 0.1 psi atmospheric pressure
Pierre Collet
Well, as soon as they master horizontal flight for real, they can go to see places that would either take ages for Perseverance to get to (remember it crawls at 8m/day if all goes well), or even inaccessible places such as over a ridge that couldn't be climbed by Perseverance.
The problem is the short autonomy / endurance of the drone, that uses a lot of energy to fly in a very thin atmosphere and what happens if it goes too far to come back to flat enough terrain to land safely...

This means exploration using ingenuity cannot go beyond half its endurance... With a 90s endurance, you can go as fast as you can in one direction for 30s, take 360 photos to analyze later on back on earth, then zoom back for 30s and land... The NASA team can then have a look at the photos while ingenuity recharges using its solar cells. According to https://rotorcraft.arc.nasa.gov/Publications/files/Balaram_AIAA2018_0023.pdf, the helicopter was designed to be able to recharge and fly for 90s / day, taking into account the heating energy needed to survive the night.

So in 30s or so, the rover could cover a couple hundred meter distance, come back, land where it started from. Then, analysis of the images taken from the furthest spot, on planet Earth and if it is estimated that ingenuity could safely land there, a flight could be made in this direction and land where specified. Probably one flight every other day in exploration mode...

If Ingenuity could do 100m hops every other day (i.e. 50m/day), it would be nearly 10 times as fast as Perseverance to go ahead, determine where it could be interesting / dangerous to go for perseverance.

Ingenuity could be a very efficient explorer / harbinger for Perseverance.
Pierre Collet
Just found about the 3rd flight on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXYhITeOB6U

The enhanced video of the 2nd flight shows that the horizontal flight was indeed in the axis of Perseverance (we can see the tilt when the honziontal flight started, then the tilt when it stopped and came back ...). This explains why we could not clearly see the horizontal flight on the 2nd video.