NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Is Getting Back To Work

For several weeks last month, NASA could not continue operations with any of its spacecraft orbiting Mars or operating on the planet's surface. It was unable to continue operations because of the conjunction that placed Mars on the other side of the sun from Earth. NASA won't send any commands or data to and from Mars during the conjunction because there's a risk of the commands being garbled and causing unintended operation of the spacecraft.

However, now that the conjunction is over and NASA has conducted its first flight operating the rotors of Ingenuity at 2700 RPM, it's time for the next flight. Ingenuity is now ready to travel back to Wright Brothers Field at the Octavia E. Butler landing site. After returning to the landing site, Ingenuity will later join the Perseverance rover as it travels north along the eastern edge of Seitah, where it is currently exploring.

After traveling along the eastern edge, Perseverance will head west to explore the ancient river delta entering Jezero crater. Finally, Ingenuity will conduct a series of flights to return to Wright Brothers Field. The flight series will require between four and seven flights, and along that path, NASA will issue a flight software update. Hopefully, the software update will enable new navigation capabilities for the helicopter and help prepare Ingenuity for challenges it might face in the future.

The first flight of that journey is flight 15 and was set to take place no earlier than Saturday, November 6. The flight aims to return the helicopter to the Raised Ridges region that was imaged during flight 10. Flight 15 will have Ingenuity traveling 1332 feet during a flight lasting 130 seconds. The helicopter will travel at 11.1 mph and capture high-resolution color images that will be returned to Earth. Those images are taken in 13-megapixel resolution and will include a single post-takeoff image to the Southwest and nine images taken facing Northwest along the flight path. Ingenuity is expected to maintain an altitude of 39.3 feet for the duration of the flight.

Flight 15 is the second flight for Ingenuity that will happen in the summertime on the planet. The challenge with flying during the summertime is the lower air density, and Ingenuity wasn't designed to operate in the low-density summer air. Originally, Ingenuity was expected to only perform a handful of flights before being decommissioned. However, it performed so well NASA has extended its mission.

To fly during the summer required NASA to change some aspects of how the helicopter operates. The biggest aspect was increasing the rotor speed to 2700 RPM to compensate for lower air density. In addition, flight 15 will gather critical hi-RPM motor performance data for the Ingenuity team. The collected data will help the team plan future flights in the coming months.

Along with offering details about flight 15, NASA has also offered some information on the data collected from flights. So far, Ingenuity has taken 83 13-megapixel color images, 1772 black and white navigation camera images, and it has received two flight software upgrades.