The mission of the historic NASA Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has concluded after exceeding expectations and carrying out more flights than initially planned.
Although the helicopter remains upright and maintains communication with controllers on the ground, images captured during its flight on January 18 and sent back to Earth this week suggest that one or more of its rotor blades were damaged during the flight. landing, which has left the helicopter unable to make additional flights .
Initially designed as a technology demonstration to carry out up to five experimental test flights over a 30-day period, this first aircraft on another planet has operated from the Martian surface for almost three years, carrying out a total of 72 flights and flying more than 14 times longer than originally planned, while accumulating more than two hours of total flight time.
“The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to an end”said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best: make the impossible possible.”.
Ingenuity’s mission to Mars
Ingenuity landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, strapped to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, and performed its first liftoff from the Martian surface on April 19, demonstrating the feasibility of powered-controlled flight on Mars.
After carrying out four more successful flights, it assumed a new role as an operations demonstration, acting as an aerial scout for the scientists and operators of the Perseverance rover. In 2023, the helicopter successfully conducted two additional flight tests, further expanding the team’s knowledge of Ingenuity’s aerodynamic limits.
Notably, the Ingenuity team was scheduled to carry out a brief vertical flight on January 18 in order to determine the location of the helicopter after making an emergency landing on its previous flight. According to plans, data indicates that Ingenuity reached a maximum altitude of 12 meters and remained in flight for 4.5 seconds before beginning its descent at a speed of 1 meter per second.
However, at a close distance of about 1 meter above the surface, Ingenuity lost connection with the rover, which serves as a communications relay for the helicopter. The next day, communications were reestablished and additional information about the flight was transmitted to controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Images showing damage to one of the rotor blades were received several days later. The cause of the loss of communication and the orientation of the helicopter at the time of landing are still under investigation.
During a mission that spanned nearly a thousand Martian days, more than 33 times its originally planned duration, Ingenuity demonstrated an enhanced ability to autonomously select landing sites on unstable terrain. It faced challenges such as a faulty sensor, cleaned itself after dust storms, conducted operations from 48 different takeoff and landing locations, carried out three emergency landings and withstood a frigid Martian winter.
Now that flight operations have concluded, the Ingenuity team will conduct final tests on the helicopter’s systems and download the remaining images and data stored aboard Ingenuity. Currently, the Perseverance rover is too distant to attempt to capture images of the helicopter at its final takeoff and landing area.
More details about the Ingenuity helicopter
Ingenuity, NASA’s Mars helicopter, was built by NASA’s JPL, which is also overseeing the execution of this project from NASA Headquarters. Receives support from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. During the development of Ingenuity, NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, and NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, played an essential role in providing flight performance analysis and significant technical assistance. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm and SolAero provided advice on the design and key components of this vehicle. Lockheed Space was responsible for the design and manufacturing of the Mars helicopter delivery system. At NASA headquarters, Dave Lavery oversees the Ingenuity helicopter program on Mars.
Don’t miss any of our posts and follow us on social media!