NASA has officially extended flight operations for its Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, through September, according to an announcement from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Tuesday. Ingenuity, which travelled to Mars onboard the Perseverance rover, recently completed its 21st successful flight. The rotorcraft’s future flights will focus on supporting Perseverance as it explores the Jezero Crater by providing routing assistance, assessing potential science targets and imaging features beyond the rover’s reach.
“Less than a year ago we didn’t even know if powered, controlled flight of an aircraft at Mars was possible,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Now, we are looking forward to Ingenuity’s involvement in Perseverance’s second science campaign. Such a transformation of mindset in such a short period is simply amazing, and one of the most historic in the annals of air and space exploration.”
In preparation for its new mission, JPL says Ingenuity has received software upgrades that include removing its previously programmed maximum altitude of 50 feet and giving the helicopter the ability to change airspeed during flight. Ingenuity became the first aircraft to operate from the surface of another planet when it took off for the first time in April 2021. It has currently logged over 38 minutes in flight and traveled 2.9 miles.
“This upcoming flight will be my 22nd entry in our logbook,” said Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip. “I remember thinking when this all started, we’d be lucky to have three entries and immensely fortunate to get five. Now, at the rate we’re going, I’m going to need a second book.”
This is why I think that the Ingenuity team deserves this year’s Collier Trophy. For such a significant achievement (flight on another planet) under such crushing constraints (the known ones were daunting, the unknown ones still numerous) the design, construction, and operation of this “little chopper that could” is a triumph of aerospace engineering.