Ingenuity, the tiny Mars helicopter Ingenuity, has flown faster than ever before over Mars' surface. Its eighth flight flew 160 meters. The helicopter team now has something more difficult in mind, as it prepares for a far-flung journey with its rover partner.
Ingenuity is currently preparing for flight nine. This will see the rover travel at high speed across difficult terrain. Stah is where the rover is located. It has steepling sand formations that make it difficult for vehicles to cross. The helicopter will try to climb and pass this obstacle, taking photos as it goes.
The long-term goal for Mars' aerial vehicles is to explore difficult and unreachable areas. They will also be able to move quickly across large areas in order to survey the area. This would allow rovers access to the most interesting scientific areas from the ground while aerial vehicles could explore more remote or difficult areas.
Ingenuity will fly faster and further than ever before to avoid the Stah Sand formation. Ingenuity will fly 625m (2,051ft) at 5m (16ft) per second with a flight time of just 167 seconds. Because of the way the helicopter's autonomous navigation works, this will be a difficult flight. The helicopter uses its camera to capture high-resolution images below the ground, and then adjusts its movements to remain in the air. It is possible that the navigation system may have difficulty reading the ground because it will fly over uneven terrain.
The planned flight is a high-risk one. However, Ingenuity's chief pilot, Hvard Grp, and chief engineer Bob Balaram write that they believe the helicopter is capable of the challenge. Why would they take such a risk? Based on our flight experience so far, we believe Ingenuity can handle the challenge. This high-risk, high reward attempt is perfectly in line with our operational demonstration phase.
A successful flight would be an impressive demonstration of the capabilities that an aircraft vehicle, and only an aerial vehicle, can bring to Mars exploration. It will travel quickly across difficult terrain and scout for interesting science targets.
We'll keep you informed about how the helicopter fared on its most difficult flight to date.