Washington: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has successfully completed its 14th test flight on the Red Planet, the US space agency said.
The mini helicopter, originally expected to fly only five times, has far exceeded its mission. The mini-helicopter flew to the Red Planet on February 18 while being attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover.
The 14th flight — a short hop — took place shortly after 1.18 a.m. PDT on October 24 at Jezero Crater.
“As planned, the helicopter executed its first 2,700 rpm (revolutions per minute) flight, proving that Ingenuity is capable of flying in the weeks and months ahead on Mars, during which seasonal changes on the surface will result in decreases in air density,” NASA said in a statement.
The short 23-second flight included a peak altitude of 5 metres above ground level, with a small sideways translation of 2 metres to avoid a nearby sand ripple.
This was also the first time Ingenuity recorded black-and-white navigation camera images at the high-rate of about seven frames a second, NASA said.
The agency noted that the short hop in its current airfield tested out higher rpm settings so the helicopter can fly in lower atmospheric densities on the Red Planet.
“This test also leaves the team room for an rpm increase if needed for future flights,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said in a tweet.
The helicopter was originally scheduled to complete this test flight on September 18, but was delayed due to an anomaly found during a pre-flight checkout. At the time, Ingenuity detected an issue in two of its small flight-control servo motors, which adjust the pitch of the rotors, allowing the chopper to control its orientation and position during flight, Space.com reported.
While the team was unable to replicate the issue during subsequent tests on September 21 and 23, Ingenuity remained grounded until now because Mars experienced solar conjunction, which occurs every two years when the sun falls directly between Earth and the Red Planet, disrupting communications between the planets for about two weeks. However, as of October 21, Ingenuity was deemed ready to fly.
“Now that conjunction is over, #MarsHelicopter can attempt flight 14. Ingenuity successfully performed a 50 rpm spin test this week & will do a short hop no earlier than Oct. 23,” NASA’s JPL said in another tweet. “This is to test out flying in lower atmospheric densities on the Red Planet.”