NASA plans sixth Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flight

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has been so successful with its five previous test flights that NASA has announced it's now planning a sixth flight. The mission is in the planning phase currently and is expected to happen in the next week. NASA points out that this flight will be the first executed under the helicopter's operations demonstration phase and will see the helicopter scout multiple surface features from the air and land at a different airfield.

Ingenuity will send data and images from the flight to Earth in the days following the mission. One key difference between this mission and others is that the Perseverance rover will not record images of the helicopter in flight because it is currently preparing for the start of its science operations. Flight plans for the sixth flight will see the aircraft ascend to 33 feet before heading Southwest for about 492 feet.

It will acquire color imagery of an area of interest as it translates to the south for a distance of 50 to 66 feet. During the mission, Ingenuity will capture stereo imagery of sand ripples and outcrops of bright rocks at the site to demonstrate the value of an aerial perspective for future missions. Once the helicopter is finished completing its image operations, it will fly about 164 feet northeast, where it will land at a new base of operations known as Field C.

NASA plans to continue expanding the performance envelope for Ingenuity during this test flight. Mission planners intend to reach the highest top ground speed yet of about nine mph, and Ingenuity will spend about 140 seconds in the air. Another interesting aspect of this mission is that it will mark the first time Ingenuity will land at an airfield it has not previously surveyed from the air. Ingenuity is relying on images from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that shows the new airfield is relatively flat with few surface obstructions.