Hold on to your hats as the Mars helicopter takes us on another ride over the Red Planet. NASA released new footage of the Ingenuity helicopter’s 25th flight, revealing the tiny rotorcraft’s longest and fastest excursion yet.
On April 18, NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity covered a distance of 704 metres at a speed of 19 km per hour (5.5 meters per second). The video from the flight was released Friday, as the team currently prepares for a 29th flight on Mars.
“For our record-breaking flight, Ingenuity’s downward-looking navigation camera provided us with a breathtaking sense of what it would feel like gliding 10.06 m above the surface of Mars at 19 km per hour,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement.
The video is indeed a doozy. It starts off about one second into the flight, after Ingenuity has already taken off the Martian surface. Once it reaches an altitude of 10.06 m, the helicopter starts flying southwest. Its shadow passing rapidly over the Martian ground seems to move with bold determination.
Ingenuity quickly accelerates to its maximum speed within three seconds of flight. The seemingly frantic footage was actually sped up about five times regular speed, reducing the 161.3-second flight to less than 35 seconds.
The grainy video still allows us to marvel at Mars’ desert-like terrain, which begins with smooth sandy ripples, then gets more rocky about halfway through the footage, before smoothening out again and providing a safe landing spot for Ingenuity.
The helicopter’s downward-facing black-and-white camera was designed to cut-off when the rotorcraft is within 1 metre of the surface, to avoid getting dust lodged in the navigation system.
Ingenuity may have started off as a sidekick to the Perseverance rover, but this little helicopter has proven itself time and time again. On April 19, 2021, Ingenuity became the first powered aircraft to lift off from the surface of another planet. The 19-inch tall (48 cm), 1.8 kg helicopter was designed to test out a whole new way to explore alien worlds, and it has already far exceeded all expectations by logging 28 flights over Mars — the original mission plan only aimed for five flights.
Despite recent communication issues between Ingenuity and its six-wheeled rover companion, the helicopter was recently drafted to help Perseverance in its exploration of Mars, flying overhead to determine the best routes across the planet.