Mars helicopter Ingenuity soars through Red Planet's summer air after radio blackout (video)

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has completed its 14th flight test on Mars. This demonstrates its ability to fly in Mars' summer weather conditions.
The aircraft's rotors need to turn faster as temperatures rise at the little chopper's Jezero Crater site. On Sunday, Oct. 24, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter flew a short "hop" to demonstrate its ability to fly at slightly higher speeds (2700 RPM) than the normal 2,537 RPM.

Ingenuity performed a brief hop in its existing airfield to evaluate higher rpm settings for flying in lower atmospheric densities at the Red Planet," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Monday (Oct. 25) via tweet. The team has the ability to increase the rpm if necessary for future flights. JPL oversees the Mars Perseverance Rover mission for NASA, which also includes Ingenuity. It is being conducted from NASA's Pasadena headquarters.

Related: The Ingenuity helicopter is becoming more difficult to fly on Mars

This NASA photo shows Ingenuity's shadow on Mars' surface from its 14th flight. It was taken Oct. 24, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Although the helicopter was initially scheduled to fly this test flight on Sept. 18, it was delayed by an anomaly discovered during pre-flight inspection. Ingenuity discovered an issue with two of its small flight control servo motors. These motors adjust the pitch of the rotating rotors to allow the helicopter to maintain its position and orientation during flight.

Although the team was unable replicate the problem during the subsequent tests on Sept. 21 or Sept. 23, Ingenuity was still grounded because Mars experienced solar conjunction. This occurs every two years and causes communications to be disrupted for approximately two weeks. On Thursday, Oct. 21, Ingenuity was declared ready to fly.

"Now that the conjunction is over, #MarsHelicopter may attempt flight 14. Ingenuity performed a spin test at 50 rpm this week and will attempt a short hop no later than Oct. 23," NASA's JPL stated in another tweet. This is to test flying at lower atmospheric densities on Mars.

NASA stopped sending commands during conjunction to Ingenuity, its other Red Planet robots including the Perseverance Rover. Perseverance and the Martian helicopter exchanged system health updates about once per week. These data were transmitted back to Earth following conjunction. This allowed teams to assess how Ingenuity performed during the last few weeks of inactivity.

Ingenuity was initially expected to fly five times on Mars to prove that powered flight is possible in Mars' thin atmosphere. NASA decided to use Ingenuity for scouting terrain for its Perseverance Rover. The tenacious helicopter completed 14 flights after the initial success.


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