Ingenuity Helicopter completes trickier second flight on Mars

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s navigation camera captures the helicopter’s shadow on the surface of Jezero Crater during the second test flight. | Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter successfully completed its second test flight on Mars. This morning at 5:33 a.m. EDT, Ingenuity climbed to 16 feet, performed a slight (5-degree) tilt, moved sideways 7 feet (2 meters) and flew for a total of 51.9 seconds. It performed the flight autonomously.

You can watch a video of the second flight at “Wright Brothers Field” below. The historic first flight, which took place on April 19, lasted for 39.1 seconds. Ingenuity climbed to 10 feet in the air and hovered for 30 seconds before descending back to the surface of Mars.

“So far, the engineering telemetry we have received and analyzed tell us that the flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate,” said Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We have two flights of Mars under our belts, which means that there is still a lot to learn during this month of Ingenuity.”

Operating an aircraft in a controlled manner at Mars is far more difficult than flying one on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one third that of Earth’s, Ingenuity must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere with only about 1% of the density at Earth’s surface. Each second of each flight provides an abundance of Mars in-flight data for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth.

NASA also gains its first practical experience operating a rotorcraft remotely at Mars. These datasets will prove invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations. Ingenuity became the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.

“The helicopter came to a stop, hovered in place, and made turns to point its camera in different directions,” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at JPL. “Then it headed back to the center of the airfield to land. It sounds simple, but there are many unknowns regarding how to fly a helicopter on Mars. That’s why we’re here – to make these unknowns known.”

Commands for the flight were sent Wednesday night to the Perseverance rover, which acts as a communication station between the helicopter and its team on Earth. After uploading the commands from the rover, Ingenuity is able to fly by itself.

Ingenuity has already sent back a black-and-white image from this second flight. Images include the one below, which show the shadow of the helicopter on the Martian surface as the rotorcraft hovered above.

NASA is preparing to attempt three more flights over the next week.

Editor’s Note: Follow along The Robot Report’s complete coverage of the Mars 2020 Mission.

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