NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, logged its 34th successful flight last week, staying in the air for 18 seconds and reaching a maximum altitude of 5 meters. The brief flight was the helicopter’s first with its latest software update, which is expected to add capabilities including hazard avoidance during landing and the use of digital elevation maps to assist with navigation. Further flights to test Ingenuity’s upgraded capabilities are planned.
Ingenuity, a technology demonstrator sent to test powered, controlled flight on Mars, was launched with the Perseverance rover in July 2020. The 1.8-kilogram helicopter’s mission was officially extended last March to include supporting the rover as it explores the Jezero Crater. According to NASA, Ingenuity was originally designed to fly over flat terrain, necessitating the software update as it begins to move into rockier areas with fewer safe landing sites.
Since its first flight on April 19, 2021, Ingenuity has logged almost 59 minutes in the air and travelled a total distance of 7,392 meters (4.6 miles). Its highest flight to date reached 12 meters above the surface and its longest lasted 169.5 seconds. As previously reported by AVweb, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team was awarded the 2021 Collier trophy for accomplishing “the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet, thereby opening the skies of Mars and other worlds for future scientific discovery and exploration.”