On October 24, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flew a brief hop flight, giving the mission team both relief and a look forward to future flights. The 14th Ingenuitys flight was a brief hover of 23 seconds. It reached a height of 16 feet (5 m) above the ground. There was also a slight sideways translation of 7 ft (2 meter) to avoid a nearby sandy ripple.
Although the flight was brief, it was significant for many reasons. It was also the first flight following Mars solar conjunction. This is a period where Mars lines up behind Earth's Sun for approximately two weeks. Solar activity disrupts communications between the planets. Although it is unlikely that anything will go wrong on Mars during the period of inactivity and downtime, it's possible. After reestablishing communication on October 16, all robots on Mars reported back as expected.
This two-week period of conjunction might be considered vacation for the robots on Mars as well as the mission teams on Earth. However, Ginnys team was busy looking over data from the last time the helicopter spun its rotors. A second, brief flight was scheduled for September 18 (Sol 206). However, Ingenuity discovered an anomaly in two small flight-control servomotors. The helicopter canceled the flight because it did what it was supposed. Later, the team discovered that the rotors oscillated too much and was able to test them where they were working correctly. They decided to wait until the conjunction for the next flight.
This image was captured by Ingenuity using its navigation camera mounted in the helicopter's fuselage. It pointed directly downwards to track the ground while it flew. This image was taken on Oct. 23, 2021 (Sol. 240 of Perseverance Rover mission). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Flight conditions on Mars become more difficult as the seasons change. The Martian atmosphere thins about 25% each winter. Ingenuity has been trying out higher rotor speeds and flight 14 is the ultimate test.
JPL tweeted that the Mars helicopter performed a brief hop in its current field to test higher rpm settings, so it can fly in lower atmospheric density on Red Planet. The team has the option to increase the rpm for future flights.
? Flight No. 14
The #MarsHelicopter performed a successful hop in its current field to test higher rpm settings, so that it can fly in lower atmospheric densities at the Red Planet. The team has the option to increase the rpm for future flights. pic.twitter.com/bYCMgnrTyz NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) October 25, 2021
Team members stated that this flight demonstrated that Ingenuity can fly in the weeks and even months ahead of Mars.
Keep checking back for Ginny's next flight, and the progress of the helicopter in its search for Perseverance. You can keep an eye on Ingenuity here, and Perseverance at this website.
Parts and equipment of Ingenuity. Credit: NASA/JPL
Caption: Mars Helicopter Sol241: Navigation Camera: NASAs Innovation Mars Helicopter captured this image with its navigation camera. The camera is mounted inside the helicopter's fuselage. It can be pointed downwards to track the ground while in flight. This image was taken at 12:34:15 local time on Oct. 24, 2021 (Sol 241 from the Perseverance Rover mission). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech