It’s been a busy year on Mars for NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, and it won’t slow down again. After 21 flights, the plane is still in excellent condition, which is why NASA has extended its mission until at least September.
Simplicity arrived on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021 with NASA’s Perseverance rover. The original mission was simply to demonstrate the ability to fly a helicopter in the rarefied atmosphere of Mars. After three successful flights proving the technology’s effectiveness and marking the first powered flight to another planet, NASA brought Ingenuity online with two more flights. Since then, the helicopter has made 16 flights to further test its capabilities by helping navigate the Jezero Crater, but now it is embarking on a new mission: exploration of the Jezero River Delta.
“The Jezero Delta campaign will be the biggest challenge the Ingenuity team will face since its first mission to Mars,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release.
The area is dangerous for both ingenuity and persistence, as it is “filled with eroded rocks, sloping surfaces, protruding boulders, and sand-filled cavities that can stop a rover in its path (or a helicopter upon landing). hint)”, according to the release. But this only gives Ingenuity the perfect opportunity to showcase their exploration skills. Helicopter observations will influence not only Perseverance’s upcoming path, but also its science missions as it searches for evidence of microbial life on Mars, collecting key samples that may one day return to Earth. In addition, Ingenuity flight data will be used in the development of the next generation of Martian vehicles.
“Less than a year ago, we didn’t even know that a controlled flight of an airplane to Mars was possible,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Office of Science Missions. “We are now looking forward to Ingenuity’s participation in the second Perseverance Science Campaign.”
Ingenuity is currently one of at least three parts in a series of flights that will see the aircraft pass from its original flight area through an area called Sita, after which it will explore the Jezero Delta. The next flight can now be every day.
“This upcoming flight will be my 22nd entry in our logbook,” JPL Ingenuity Chief Pilot Howard Gripp said in a press release. “I remember when it all started, we were lucky with three submissions and very lucky with five. Now, at the pace we’re going, I need another book.”
Perhaps NASA shouldn’t be so surprised. The agency’s rovers have an unparalleled lifespan, well beyond that of their original mission – sometimes by thousands of Martian sols – so it’s only fitting that Ingenuity follows suit.