Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Completes Its First Flight Of The Year

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity has completed its first flight of 2022, dodging dust storms to take to the Martian air once again. The helicopter is currently on a series of flights taking it back toward its rover companion, Perseverance, so it can help to scout ahead of the rover and plan routes as it moves through the Jezero river delta (via NASA).

NASA announced that Ingenuity had successfully completed its latest flight, the nineteenth to date, on Tuesday, February 8 2022. "After some dusty weather delays, it's time to celebrate the #MarsHelicopter's first flight of 2022!," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote on Twitter. "The rotorcraft flew for the 19th time on the Red Planet, soaring for 99.98 seconds over ~62 meters."

The flight had originally been scheduled for January 2022, but had to be delayed due to bad weather. That's right – it's not only here on Earth that we have to contend with adverse weather conditions!

Mars has periodic dust storms, in which strong winds whip up the dust which covers the planet and covers everything in sight. In fact, Mars is the dustiest place in the solar system, and this is exacerbated by the fact the planet is smaller than Earth and therefore has lower gravity, making it easier for dust particles to be lifted off the surface. In addition, Mars has a very thin atmosphere, which is just 1% the density of Earth's atmosphere, so there are a lot of air currents caused by temperature differences, and these also tend to whip up the dust (via Digital Trends).

A regional dust storm on Mars

All of this means that a Martian dust storm can be a dramatic event, and sometimes even a global event, in which practically the entire planet is covered by a dust storm.

The dust storm which affected Ingenuity last month was a regional one, in the Jezero Crater where Ingenuity is based, and fortunately it was spotted in advance by an instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), an orbiting spacecraft which takes high-resolution images of the Martian surface. The MRO team spotted the dust storm forming and warned the Ingenuity team that they would need to delay their flight.

"A strong regional dust storm appeared on the first day of the new year, encompassing Jezero crater just as we scheduled Flight 19," wrote Jonathan Bapst and Michael Mischna of the Ingenuity Weather/Environment Team. "The presence of this storm came quite early – even before the dusty season traditionally starts! In fact, we have never seen a storm of this strength so early in the Mars year before."

So the flight was delayed, and the dust storm moved over the Jezero crater and then beyond. Once it cleared up, Ingenuity was able to take to the air once again. However, Mars is now entering the dusty season, so the team will have to remain on the lookout for more dust storms in the future.