Following its initial success, NASA is already planning a second flight with its Mars Ingenuity helicopter. The next flight, which will take place tomorrow, April 22, will take Ingenuity farther off the ground and tilt it sideways a bit to fly at an angle. NASA plans to share the results from the test flight on its Mars Perseverance website.
On April 19, the Ingenuity helicopter conducted its first flight on Mars, one that was a success and involved operating the aerial vehicle around 10ft above the ground. At that time, the helicopter merely rose in the air, hovered, turned, and then landed. Though the flight itself was minor, it represented a massive milestone for both the Perseverance mission and NASA’s experimental effort.
This marked the first time that any flight had taken place on a planet other than Earth, one made particularly tricky by Mars’ thin atmosphere. With that accomplishment out of the way, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory plans to take things up a notch and test Ingenuity’s abilities with a slightly more strenuous second flight.
Tomorrow, April 22, Ingenuity will spend a bit less than a minute climbing to a height of around 16ft, after which point it will tilt around 5-degrees and then fly sideways for a distance of around 7ft. Though there’s no guarantee that Ingenuity will succeed in this effort, success will no doubt pave the way for more dramatic tests in the future.
Ingenuity isn’t a mission in and of itself; rather, NASA is using the small helicopter as a technology demonstration, one that proves it is possible to operate an aerial vehicle on Mars while providing important data that may help shape future flight-based missions on the Red Planet.