Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Mission Has Been Extended By NASA

NASA has announced that it is extending the mission for the Ingenuity helicopter that has been operating on the surface of the Red Planet for days now. NASA has announced that it will keep the helicopter flying for an additional 30 days with the potential for more testing time via an extended mission. NASA says that the extended mission will test the helicopter's ability to scout, presumably meaning explore the planet for sites of interest for potential future exploration.

Originally, Ingenuity was meant to operate for 30 days on the surface of Mars as a technology demonstration mission to test if controlled flight was possible on another planet. There was some concern that the helicopter might not fly at all given how thin the Martian atmosphere is, but the helicopter performed well in test flights. With the extended mission, NASA will shift Ingenuity into what it calls the "operations demonstration phase" to test additional capabilities for the aircraft.

NASA Dir. of Planetary Science Division Lori Glaze said that there is room to expand the Ingenuity demonstration into a new phase after assessing Perseverance science strategies. With Ingenuity entering a new operational demonstration phase, the team managing the helicopter says that it is "extremely happy and proud." Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung says that it's like Ingenuity is graduating from the test demo phase to a new demo phase where the team can show how the rotorcraft could be used for exploration and science missions.

So far, flight tests of Ingenuity have seen it rise from the surface and hover, not moving very far from the Perseverance rover. The rover has taken some images of Mars and the surrounding landscape. The Ingenuity team has conducted three successful test flights so far and was initially set to stop after 30 days and as many as five test flights so Perseverance can move on to its science mission.