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[b]NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Reaches a Total of 30 Minutes Aloft[/b]
The 17th flight of NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on Dec. 5 pushed the total flight time past the 30-minute mark. The 117-second sortie brought history's first aircraft to operate from the surface of another world closer to its original airfield, "Wright Brothers Field," where it will await the arrival of the agency's Perseverance Mars rover, currently exploring "South Séítah" region of Mars' Jezero Crater.
[i][b]Above[/b]: Ingenuity sits on a slightly inclined surface with about 6-degree tilt at the center of the frame, just north of the southern ridge of “Séíitah” geologic unit. The Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z instrument took this image on Dec. 1, 2021, when the rotorcraft was about 970 feet (295 meters) away.[/i] (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)
Along with accumulating 30 minutes and 48 seconds of flight time, the trailblazing helicopter has traveled over the surface a distance of 2.2 miles (3,592 meters), flying as high as 40 feet (12 meters) and as fast as 10 mph (5 meters per second).
The rotorcraft's status after the Dec. 5 flight was previously unconfirmed due to an unexpected cutoff to the in-flight data stream as the helicopter descended toward the surface at the conclusion of its flight. Perseverance serves as the helicopter's communications base station with controllers on Earth. A handful of data radio packets the rover received later suggested a healthy helicopter on the surface but did not provide enough information for the team to declare a flight success.
But data downlinked to mission engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on Friday, Dec. 10, indicates that Flight 17 was a success and that Ingenuity is in excellent condition.
The 30-minute mark far surpasses the original plans for the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft. Designed as a technology demonstration to perform up to five experimental test flights, Ingenuity first flew on April 19, 2021, with a short up-and-down hop to prove powered, controlled flight on Mars was possible. The next four experimental flights expanded the rotorcraft's flight envelope, making increasingly longer flights with more complicated maneuvering, which further helped engineers at JPL better understand its performance.
With the sixth flight, the helicopter embarked on a new operations demonstration phase, investigating how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds. In this new chapter, the helicopter has operated from airfields well south of Wright Brothers Field, scouting rocky outcrops and other geologic features of interest to the Perseverance rover's science team.
"Few thought we would make it to flight one, fewer still to five. And no one thought we would make it this far," said Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos of JPL. "On the way to accumulating over a half-hour aloft Ingenuity has survived eight months of bitter cold, and operated out of nine unique Martian airfields. The aircraft's continued operations speaks to the robustness the design and the diligence and passion of our small operations team."
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