NASA's Mars Helicopter Just Hit a Huge Milestone, Far Exceeding The Original Mission

The "little helicopter that could", has done it again. NASA's Ingenuity helicopter for Mars, a small, tissue-box-sized rotorcraft, made its 10th flight above Mars on Saturday. It was landed alongside the Perseverance Rover in February. Every Ingenuity flight has been daringer than the previous. So Saturday's Ingenuity flight was probably the most risky yet. Ingenuity flew 40 feet (12 m) high, headed south-by-southwest towards a group of rock features called "Raised Ridges", before returning to its original landing spot at 310 feet (94m) west. Ingenuity had flown almost one mile before Saturday's flight. So, its 10th flight was a significant milestone. The flight should have taken approximately 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Ingenuity should have stopped at 10 different waypoints and taken photos. Flight 10 marks a significant milestone. Ingenuity now has flown twice as often as NASA engineers had planned. NASA had Ingenuity crash on its fourth or fifth flight, as it was testing the limits of its speed & stamina. Ground track and waypoints to Ingenuity's 10th flight (Jezero Crater Mars). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona) However, Ingenuity continues to surpass expectations. Even though the helicopter was unable to stabilize itself mid-air during May's sixth flight, it still made it safely to its destination. Ingenuity was originally designed to demonstrate technology, but NASA granted Ingenuity a second mission in May. This was after the drone's fourth flight. Ingenuity began to explore new Martian terrain since then and test operations NASA may want to perform with future space helicopters. Ingenuity's recent flights have explored the unexplored areas of Mars' Jezero Crater, a 28-mile (45-kilometer) wide impact basin. It was originally filled with water around 3.5 billion years ago and has been landing in new locations each time. Ingenuity faces challenges due to uneven terrain. Rocky or rippled land can cause Ingenuity's field of vision to be distorted, leading it in the wrong direction. NASA scientists stated that Ingenuity's ninth flight earlier in the month was a "nailbiter" because it had to cross treacherous terrain. Although ingenuity continues to prove useful on Mars, its future is uncertain Ingenuity's four first flights saw the rotorcraft land in the exact same spot that it took off. The fifth flight saw it land in an unfamiliar airfield it had previously photographed and mapped. These recent flights sent Ingenuity south across uncharted territory. NASA engineers don't know when Ingenuity will be ending, but the helicopter may continue flying so long as it doesn't interfere in the science work of Perseverance. Ingenuity snapped a photo of its shadow on its 7th Mars flight. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) Perseverance is used to search Jezero Crater for potential fossils of alien microbes. Ingenuity's latest operations can help with that mission. The helicopter can map and scout terrain, spot promising areas to study from the sky, and fly to places the rover cannot reach. NASA scientists are especially interested in "Raised Ridges," as water could have flowed there once before. Ingenuity took color images of interesting rock outcrops during its ninth flight. Perseverance may examine them later. NASA scientists recently wrote that color images would give us a better look at Pilot Pinnacle. This location is home to outcrops which some team members believe may capture some of the most deep water environments in Lake Jezero. However, it is possible that Perseverance's schedule doesn't permit it to visit the rock, so Ingenuity might be the only way to study these deposits in detail, the scientists stated. Business Insider originally published this article. More Business Insider:

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