NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made its third successful flight on Mars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, continuing to make history and break its own records set only days before.
The 4-pound helicopter made its historic first flight just one week prior, which lasted only about 30 seconds.
Ingenuity’s second successful flight occurred on April 22 and lasted 52 seconds. The second time around, the chopper rose 16 feet above the ground and then, after hovering briefly, its flight control system performed a 5-degree tilt -- allowing some of the thrust from the counter-rotating rotors to accelerate the craft sideways for 7 feet before returning to the center of the airfield to land.
As each flight gets more complicated, the small chopper continues to break its own records.
On Sunday, for its third Mars flight, Ingenuity flew at speeds and distances well beyond what had ever been previously tested here on Earth.
During its third flight, the chopper rose to 16 feet above the ground -- the same as its second flight -- then zipped downrange half the length of a football field, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet per second. Ingenuity then returned to its base for a total flight time of 80 seconds!
The photos that the chopper took came back perfect, which is important since future Mars choppers will be tasked with exploring places not necessarily accessible by humans.
The third flight went perfectly: the chopper, the camera and the algorithms in its onboard computer. Now, NASA’s flight team is looking at how to push the envelope even further with Ingenuity’s next flight!
NASA’s successfully landed its Mars Rover Perseverance on Feb. 18 this year near an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. Perseverance is now the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars since the 1970s, and each of those spacecrafts have been from the U.S.
Over the next two years, the rover will collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life, which will eventually be retrieved by another rover and brought back to Earth by another rocket ship.