Days after it conducted one of its most challenging flights, the Ingenuity helicopter is eyeing a new airfield on Mars. The 11th flight of the quadcopter on the Martian surface is designed to aid the Perseverance rover, which is in final preparation to collect samples to be returned to Earth.
Ingenuity will climb to an altitude of 12 meters in its latest hop as it heads downrange at a speed of 5 meters per second. Before its sortie, the helicopter team will conduct a pre-programmed series of preflight checks to assess the condition of the rotorcraft as it demonstrates its operational capability on another planet.
“The mission profile is designed to stay ahead of the rover supporting its future science goals in the “South Séítah” region, where it will be able to gather aerial imagery in support of future Perseverance Mars rover surface operations in the area,” Joint Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that flies Ingenuity on Mars said in a statement.
Ingenuity flew for the first first time on Mars on April 19. (Photo: JPL)
Flight No 11
During the flight, which is expected to last for 130 seconds, the machine will travel a distance of 385 meters in the northwestern direction to its current location. The helicopter is acting as an aerial scout, which has added a new dimension to interplanetary exploration. The images captured by the helicopter has allowed the Perseverance rover team to look closely at surface features and strategise its movement as it identifies the optimum location to drill for the first surface samples.
“While Flight 11 is primarily intended as a transfer flight moving the helicopter from one place to the other – we’re not letting the opportunity go to waste to take a few images along the way,” JPL said adding that the Ingenuity’s colour camera will take multiple photos en route, and then at the end of the flight, near the new airfield, it will take two images to make a 3D stereo pair.
The aerial route of flight 11 on Mars. (Photo: JPL)
The helicopter had captured colour images during the 10th flight as well, which were combined to form a 3D image that engineers said: “almost feels like you can reach out and touch the Raised Ridges.”
“Since landing at Jezero Crater, it’s clear to all of us that there is an abundance of geologic riches for us to explore. These aerial previews from Ingenuity provide the kind of actionable data that allow us to whittle down our options and get on with the business of exploring our corner of Mars,” Ken Williford, deputy project scientist for Perseverance said.
During its last flight, the Ingenuity Helicopter crossed a major milestone of flying for over a kilometre on an alien world. Not only has it survived the treacherous Martian environment, but the helicopter has also successfully executed two separate flight-software updates, improving the aircraft’s ability to execute flights and capture colour imagery.