Mars helicopter completes hardest and longest flight to date

NASA’s Mars helicopter ‘Ingenuity’ has successfully completed its ninth flight. It was the longest and riskiest flight to date, as the helicopter flew over inhospitable terrain, making navigation difficult.

The flight lasted a total of 166.4 seconds, and Ingenuity reached a speed of 5 meters per second, NASA reports. During the flight, a distance of 625 meters was covered. The longest flight before that lasted 139.9 seconds, and the fastest speed to date was 4 meters per second.

Slopes

Last week, NASA wrote extensively about the plans for Ingenuity’s ninth flight. The small helicopter navigates using a camera at the bottom. The terrain recognition algorithms are unable to see slopes and interpret everything as flat terrain.

The ninth flight took place in the Séítah area, where there are many relatively steep slopes. This could cause deviations in meters during navigation, and this could also cause problems during landing. By flying slowly over certain areas, NASA wanted to mitigate those risks.

Experiment

NASA chose a flat landing area with a radius of 50 meters. Still, due to the possible deviations, there was a chance that Ingenuity would end up outside it, according to the space agency. That would also jeopardize communication between Mars rover Perseverance and the helicopter because it assumes a line-of-sight connection.

According to NASA, the high risk of the flight suited Ingenuity’s purpose. The small helicopter was taken to Mars as an experiment and has demonstrated with this flight that such an air vehicle can reach places that are impassable for a Mars rover. The flight also yields close-up photos of the Séítah grounds that could not have been obtained otherwise.

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