NASA’s small Ingenuity helicopter completed its 41st flight.
The Ingenuity drone made a quick flight from its rest stop, then returned on January 27, covering 600 feet (183 meters) of horizontal distance in just 109 seconds.
After the dust settled in Jezero Crater, Ingenuity returned to her rest area at “Airfield Beta”, according to the mission’s flight log. (opens in a new tab). A time lapse (opens in a new tab) mid-flight footage shows the helicopter’s shadow dancing across the sand dunes.
Related: Fly over the tracks of the Mars rover with the Ingenuity helicopter (video)
Ingenuity is the flight mission addition to NASA’s car-sized Perseverance Mars rover. The rover landed in February 2021 inside Jezero, which had a huge ancient lake and river delta and is about 45 kilometers wide.
The rover has been keeping itself busy for the past few weeks as it searches for signs of ancient life on Mars in the region, dropping off 10 tubes of samples as of Monday (January 30). This is a hardware save cache, as Perseverance has twin samples of the various sites hidden in its underbelly. One of the sets will be returned to Earth as early as 2033.
The main plan will task Perseverance with transporting the samples directly to a NASA lander which would carry the payload to orbit. Failing that, two new Ingenuity-type helicopters would serve as a backup team, taking samples from the surface to send back as part of a joint NASA/European Space Agency campaign.
However the samples are brought into the lander, it would then lift off into Mars orbit to encounter a European probe. This spacecraft would bring the samples back to Earth. (The Mars lander and European probe are expected to launch in the mid to late 2020s.)
Ingenuity’s 41st flight exceeds the technology demonstration manifesto by eight times, as the helicopter was initially only loaded with five flights. Before Ingenuity’s arrival, no human craft had ever flown on Mars in the planet’s thin atmosphere.
The extended mission allowed Ingenuity to research Perseverance, echoing how future missions to Mars should play out. From the air, the helicopter allows scientists to search for interesting scientific targets or find the best route for Perseverance to make their way through the cratered and rocky landscape of Jezero.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) or Facebook (opens in a new tab).