NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) is definitely having a field day testing its latest toy. Instead of the usual attention given to a rover, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter has been the focus of its experiments and with good reason. NASA’s scientists and engineers have been quite impressed at how the autonomous aircraft has so far performed on its first time on the Red Planet. Tomorrow, they will take it for another test, one that will push the envelope of NASA’s first-ever planetary aerial exploration vehicle.
It’s really no surprise that Ingenuity is garnering a lot more attention than the Perseverance rover. Its very construction and development have been unconventional for NASA, using many off-the-shelf parts and open source software. JPL’s Ingenuity team had three objectives for the Martian helicopter to meet and it checked them off quite impressively.
The first objective happened here on Earth when they demonstrated the machine flying in a 25-feet space simulator chamber while the second was accomplished when it flew for the first time. The third was checked off over the weekend when it flew at a height of 16 ft (5 m) covering a total of 164 ft (50 m) at a speed of 6.6 ft per second (2 meters per second). That said, Ingenuity won’t be stopping there and will be pushing it further on its Fourth Flight.
On April 29, 10:12 EDT, Ingenuity will attempt to fly farther than ever before but it won’t just be flying over. Covering a total distance of 463 feet (133 meters), the helicopter will take black and white photos of the Martian surface using its down-facing navigation camera. It will then be taking color photos as well before it heads back to its Wright Brothers Field “base”.
This flight won’t just be testing the Ingenuity’s capabilities but will also provide critical information for NASA’s future helicopters. It will also try to prove to the rest of the agency and the world the value of aerial exploration, especially using a helicopter such as Ingenuity.