(CNN) Creativity Helicopter just achieved a huge feat on Mars. The small helicopter successfully completed its record-breaking 50th flight on Thursday, just days before the two-year anniversary of its maiden flight.
Creation first flew to the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021, reaching a height of 10 feet (3 meters) and hovering for about half a minute before touching down again. That 39-second flight marked the first powered and controlled flight of a rotorcraft on another planet.
Since then, Ingenuity has exceeded all expectations, going from a technology demonstration designed for five flights to an aerial reconnaissance of the Perseverance rover as it explores an ancient lake and river delta on Mars.
During its 50th flight, Ingenuity has traveled more than 1,057 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds and set a new height record of 59 feet (18 meters). The helicopter touched down near the 0.5-mile (800-meter) wide Belva Crater.
“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to follow and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world,” said Laurie Glaze, principal of The Ingenuity. NASA’s Planetary Science Division, in a statement.
Since arriving at Mars with the rover in February 2021, Ingenuity has flown for more than 89 minutes and 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers). This is no mean feat Given that much of the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) chopper has been built with off-the-shelf smartphone processors and cameras.
“When the plane first flew, we thought we’d be incredibly lucky to make five flights,” said Teddy Zanetos, creative team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement. “We have exceeded expected cumulative flight time since our technology offering closed by 1,250% and expected distance by 2,214%.”
The ride hasn’t been easy, but the ingenuity “has proven to be very strong so far,” Zanetos told CNN. The rotorcraft has faced many challenges since it was first separated from the persevering rover’s belly more than two years ago.
the The dangerous cold of a Martian winter The dust storms blocking the solar panels have passed, but the power supply to the helicopter still drops at night.
Each morning, the Persistent Rover’s main helicopter station looks for the Ingenuity signal at the time the helicopter is expected to “wake up,” waiting for a signal that its air scout is still operational.
But Ingenuity’s solar panels, batteries, and rotor system are healthy. The helicopter “still works great,” Zanetos said. “We look forward to continuing to push that envelope.”
Since the helicopter left The flat floor of Jezero Crater and its head to the river delta in January, Her travels became more difficult. Creativity has flown over rugged and uncharted terrain with landing points fraught with potential dangers.
“We’re not in Martian Kansas anymore,” Josh Anderson, JPL’s innovation operations lead, said in a statement.
“We’re flying over the dry remains of an ancient river dotted with dunes, boulders and boulders, surrounded by hills that could make us lunch. And while we’ve recently upgraded the onboard navigation software to help locate safe airports, each flight remains a sham.”
The Ingenuity team is already planning its next batch of flights Because the helicopter must stay at the correct distance to keep in touch with the fast-moving rover, which can drive hundreds of meters in a day.
“Creativity relies on Perseverance to act as a communications vector between it and the mission controllers here at JPL,” Anderson said. “If the rover gets too far ahead or disappears behind a hill, we might lose communication. The rover team has a mission to do and a schedule to stick to. So it’s imperative that it continues to be creative and come to the fore whenever possible.”
I look forward
The Perseverance rover is moving from a region that could contain hydrated silica, which may contain information about Mars’ warmer, wetter past and any possible signs of life billions of years ago. Next up is Mount Julian, a site that will give the rover a panoramic view of Belva Crater.
The Flight of Creativity showed how useful aircraft can be for space missions, exploring places rovers can’t go or helping chart a safe path to the next destination. Small helicopter data has also provided engineers with a treasure trove as they work on future Mars helicopters, including two that could play a role in helping Return the samples collected by Perseverance to Earth.
The Helicopter team continues to closely monitor Ingenuity’s health as some of its components begin to show signs of wear and tear.
“We have come a long way and we want to go further,” said Zanetos. “But we know from the start that our time on Mars has been limited, and every operational day is a blessing. Whether the Ingenuity mission ends tomorrow, or next week, or months from now, that’s something no one can predict at the moment. What I can predict is that when that happens, we’ll have a one-on-one party.”
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