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Author Topic:   Ingenuity helicopter takes flight on Mars
Robert Pearlman
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NASA release
Mars Helicopter to Fly on NASA's Next Red Planet Rover Mission

NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars.

The Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling. The Mars Helicopter holds much promise for our future science, discovery, and exploration missions to Mars."

U.S. Rep. John Culberson of Texas echoed Bridenstine's appreciation of the impact of American firsts on the future of exploration and discovery.

"It's fitting that the United States of America is the first nation in history to fly the first heavier-than-air craft on another world," Culberson said. "This exciting and visionary achievement will inspire young people all over the United States to become scientists and engineers, paving the way for even greater discoveries in the future."

Started in August 2013 as a technology development project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Mars Helicopter had to prove that big things could come in small packages. The result of the team's four years of design, testing and redesign weighs in at little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms). Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm – about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.

"Exploring the Red Planet with NASA's Mars Helicopter exemplifies a successful marriage of science and technology innovation and is a unique opportunity to advance Mars exploration for the future," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. "After the Wright Brothers proved 117 years ago that powered, sustained, and controlled flight was possible here on Earth, another group of American pioneers may prove the same can be done on another world."

The helicopter also contains built-in capabilities needed for operation at Mars, including solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. But before the helicopter can fly at Mars it has to get there. It will do so attached to the belly pan of the Mars 2020 rover.

"The altitude record for a helicopter flying here on Earth is about 40,000 feet. The atmosphere of Mars is only one percent that of Earth, so when our helicopter is on the Martian surface, it's already at the Earth equivalent of 100,000 feet up," said Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. "To make it fly at that low atmospheric density, we had to scrutinize everything, make it as light as possible while being as strong and as powerful as it can possibly be."

Once the rover is on the planet's surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

"We don't have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time," said Aung. "Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own."

The full 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances, up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds, over a period. On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet (3 meters), where it will hover for about 30 seconds.

Above: NASA's Mars Helicopter, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, will travel with the agency's Mars 2020 rover, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.

As a technology demonstration, the Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward project. If it does not work, the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted. If it does work, helicopters may have a real future as low-flying scouts and aerial vehicles to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers," said Zurbuchen. "We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter,' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve."

Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers. Scientists will use the instruments aboard the rover to identify and collect samples of rock and soil, encase them in sealed tubes, and leave them on the planet's surface for potential return to Earth on a future Mars mission.

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NASA release
NASA's Mars Helicopter Attached to Mars 2020 Rover

Engineers attached NASA's Mars Helicopter, which will be the first aircraft to fly on another planet, to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover today in the High Bay 1 clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Above: An engineer works on attaching NASA's Mars Helicopter to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover - which has been flipped over for that purpose - on Aug. 27, 2019, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter was connected, along with the Mars Helicopter Delivery System, to a plate on the rover's belly that includes a cover to shield the helicopter from debris during entry, descent and landing. The helicopter will remain encapsulated after landing, deploying to the surface once a suitable area to conduct test flights is found at Jezero Crater, the rover's destination.

The Mars Helicopter is considered a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If the small craft encounters difficulties, the science-gathering of the Mars 2020 mission won't be impacted. If the helicopter does take flight as designed, future Mars missions could enlist second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

"Our job is to prove that autonomous, controlled flight can be executed in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere," said JPL's MiMi Aung, the Mars Helicopter project manager. "Since our helicopter is designed as a flight test of experimental technology, it carries no science instruments. But if we prove powered flight on Mars can work, we look forward to the day when Mars helicopters can play an important role in future explorations of the Red Planet."

Along with investigating difficult-to-reach destinations such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, they could carry small science instruments or act as scouts for human and robotic explorers. The agency intends to establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans, using the Moon as a stepping stone to putting humans on Mars.

"The Wright Brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but they built it in Dayton," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The Mars Helicopter, destined to be the first aircraft to fly on another world, was built in Pasadena, California. Joined now to the 2020 rover, it is yet another example of how NASA's Artemis generation is expanding humanity's reach in our solar system."

"With this joining of two great spacecraft, I can say definitively that all the pieces are in place for a historic mission of exploration," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's headquarters in Washington. "Together, Mars 2020 and the Mars Helicopter will help define the future of science and exploration of the Red Planet for decades to come."

Above: Members of the NASA Mars Helicopter team attach a thermal film to the exterior of the flight model of the Mars Helicopter. The image was taken on Feb. 1, 2019 inside the Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars 2020 rover, with the Mars Helicopter aboard, will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in July 2020 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. When it lands at Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, the rover will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration with the ability to accurately retarget its point of touchdown during the landing sequence.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover and the Mars Helicopter for NASA. NASA's Launch Services Program, based at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for launch management. Lockheed Martin Space provided the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.

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NASA release
Alabama High School Student Names NASA's Mars Helicopter

Destined to become the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet, NASA's Mars Helicopter officially has received a new name: Ingenuity.

Vaneeza Rupani, a junior at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama, came up with the name and the motivation behind it during NASA's "Name the Rover" essay contest.

"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani wrote in her contest submission. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe."

Rupani's was among 28,000 essays submitted to NASA by K-12 students from every U.S. state and territory recommending names for the the next Mars rover. In March, the agency announced that seventh-grader Alexander Mather's essay earned him the honor of naming the rover Perseverance. But with so many good essays, it seemed fitting to also choose a name for the helicopter that will accompany the rover to Mars. So NASA officials went back to the submitted essays to choose a name for the helicopter. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, made the choice for the rover's name, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine chose the name for the helicopter.

Above: Vaneeza Rupani, the 11th grader who named the Mars Helicopter (Ingenuity), at home in Northport, Alabama. (Rupani Family)

"Ingenuity encapsulates the values that our helicopter tech demo will showcase for everyone when it takes off next year as the first aircraft on another planet's surface," said Bridenstine. "It took a lot of hard and ingenious work to get the helicopter ready and then placed on the rover, and there's a lot more going to be required. I was happy we had another great name from the naming contest finalists from which I was able to select something so representative of this exciting part of our next mission to Mars."

"I am proud that NASA's Mars Helicopter will be named by Vaneeza Rupani of Northport, Alabama," said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama. "This is a unique privilege. Ms. Rupani's essay on why she chose the name 'Ingenuity' highlights her creativity, originality, and intelligence. Her grasp on the importance of exploration is extraordinary, and I am confident that she has a bright future ahead. Congratulations to Ms. Rupani on being selected for this prestigious honor."

High Risk, High Reward

As a technology demonstration, Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward experiment. The helicopter will ride to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which is preparing for launch in July or August. For several months following the rover's landing, Ingenuity will remain encapsulated in a protective cover to shield it from debris during entry, descent and landing. When the timing in the rover mission is right, Ingenuity will be deployed to stand and operate on its own on the surface of the Red Planet. If the 4-pound (2-kilogram), solar-powered craft — a combination of specially designed components and off-the-shelf parts — survives the cold Martian nights during its pre-flight checkout, the team will proceed with testing.

If successful during its 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight test window, the small craft will prove that powered flight can be achieved at Mars, enabling future Mars missions to better utilize second-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.

The helicopter successfully completed its flight-testing program using the 25-foot space simulation chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The next flight attempt will be in the actual environment of Mars. And if Ingenuity encounters difficulties, engineers will apply the lessons learned to future technology demonstrations. The science-gathering portion of the Mars 2020 mission will not be impacted.

"In the early days of this project, the feasibility of flying at Mars was questioned," said MiMi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. "But today we have a helicopter down at the launch site, installed on the rover and waiting to board the rocket which will carry us to the Red Planet. Like Vaneeza said in her essay, ingenuity and hard work led us to see beyond what was logical to what was possible. Now Ingenuity will have its chance to fly at Mars."

Above: The flight model of NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Along with investigating difficult-to-reach targets, such as cliffs, caves and deep craters, future aircraft could carry small science instruments or act as scouts for human and robotic explorers on Mars or other celestial bodies.

NASA's Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are currently undergoing final assembly and checkout at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in July and land at Mars' Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.

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NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Recharges Its Batteries in Flight

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter received a checkout and recharge of its power system on Friday, Aug. 7, one week into its near seven-month journey to Mars with the Perseverance rover. This marks the first time the helicopter has been powered up and its batteries have been charged in the space environment.

During the eight-hour operation, the performance of the rotorcraft's six lithium-ion batteries was analyzed as the team brought their charge level up to 35%. The project has determined a low charge state is optimal for battery health during the cruise to Mars.

"This was a big milestone, as it was our first opportunity to turn on Ingenuity and give its electronics a 'test drive' since we launched on July 30," said Tim Canham, the operations lead for Mars Helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "Since everything went by the book, we'll perform the same activity about every two weeks to maintain an acceptable state of charge."

The 4-pound (2-kilogram) helicopter — a combination of specially designed components and off-the-shelf parts — is currently stowed on Perseverance's belly and receives its charge from the rover's power supply. Once Ingenuity is deployed on Mars' surface after Perseverance touches down, its batteries will be charged solely by the helicopter's own solar panel. If Ingenuity survives the cold Martian nights during its preflight checkout, the team will proceed with testing.

"This charge activity shows we have survived launch and that so far we can handle the harsh environment of interplanetary space," said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL. "We have a lot more firsts to go before we can attempt the first experimental flight test on another planet, but right now we are all feeling very good about the future."

The small craft will have a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight-test window. If it succeeds, Ingenuity will prove that powered, controlled flight by an aircraft can be achieved at Mars, enabling future Mars missions to potentially add an aerial dimension to their explorations with second-generation rotorcraft.

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NASA release
NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Prepares for First Flight

NASA is targeting no earlier than April 8 for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to make the first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. Before the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft can attempt its first flight, however, both it and its team must meet a series of daunting milestones.

Ingenuity remains attached to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars Feb. 18. On March 21, the rover deployed the guitar case-shaped graphite composite debris shield that protected Ingenuity during landing. The rover currently is in transit to the "airfield" where Ingenuity will attempt to fly. Once deployed, Ingenuity will have 30 Martian days, or sols, (31 Earth days) to conduct its test flight campaign.

"When NASA's Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that roving the Red Planet was possible and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars. Similarly, we want to learn about the potential Ingenuity has for the future of science research," said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. "Aptly named, Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration."

Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. The Red Planet has significant gravity (about one-third that of Earth's) but its atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth's at the surface. During Martian daytime, the planet's surface receives only about half the amount of solar energy that reaches Earth during its daytime, and nighttime temperatures can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), which can freeze and crack unprotected electrical components.

To fit within the available accommodations provided by the Perseverance rover, the Ingenuity helicopter must be small. To fly in the Mars environment, it must be lightweight. To survive the frigid Martian nights, it must have enough energy to power internal heaters. The system – from the performance of its rotors in rarified air to its solar panels, electrical heaters, and other components – has been tested and retested in the vacuum chambers and test labs of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

"Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft," said Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter chief engineer at JPL. "And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one."

Deploying the Helicopter

Before Ingenuity takes its first flight on Mars, it must be squarely in the middle of its airfield – a 33-by-33-foot (10-by-10-meter) patch of Martian real estate chosen for its flatness and lack of obstructions. Once the helicopter and rover teams confirm that Perseverance is situated exactly where they want it to be inside the airfield, the elaborate process to deploy the helicopter on the surface of Mars begins.

"As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before," said Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead for the Perseverance rover. "Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn't going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea what is going on."

The helicopter deployment process will take about six sols (six days, four hours on Earth). On the first sol, the team on Earth will activate a bolt-breaking device, releasing a locking mechanism that helped hold the helicopter firmly against the rover's belly during launch and Mars landing. The following sol, they will fire a cable-cutting pyrotechnic device, enabling the mechanized arm that holds Ingenuity to begin rotating the helicopter out of its horizontal position. This is also when the rotorcraft will extend two of its four landing legs.

During the third sol of the deployment sequence, a small electric motor will finish rotating Ingenuity until it latches, bringing the helicopter completely vertical. During the fourth sol, the final two landing legs will snap into position. On each of those four sols, the Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager will take confirmation shots of Ingenuity as it incrementally unfolds into its flight configuration. In its final position, the helicopter will hang suspended at about 5 inches (13 centimeters) over the Martian surface. At that point, only a single bolt and a couple dozen tiny electrical contacts will connect the helicopter to Perseverance. On the fifth sol of deployment, the team will use the final opportunity to utilize Perseverance as a power source and charge Ingenuity's six battery cells.

"Once we cut the cord with Perseverance and drop those final five inches to the surface, we want to have our big friend drive away as quickly as possible so we can get the Sun's rays on our solar panel and begin recharging our batteries," said Balaram.

On the sixth and final scheduled sol of this deployment phase, the team will need to confirm three things: that Ingenuity's four legs are firmly on the surface of Jezero Crater, that the rover did, indeed, drive about 16 feet (about 5 meters) away, and that both helicopter and rover are communicating via their onboard radios. This milestone also initiates the 30-sol clock during which time all preflight checks and flight tests must take place.

"Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test – we want to see if we can fly at Mars," said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. "There are no science instruments onboard and no goals to obtain scientific information. We are confident that all the engineering data we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and aloft can be done within this 30-sol window."

As with deployment, the helicopter and rover teams will approach the upcoming flight test methodically. If the team misses or has questions about an important preflight milestone, they may take one or more sols to better understand the issue. If the helicopter survives the first night of the sequence period on the surface of Mars, however, the team will spend the next several sols doing everything possible to ensure a successful flight, including wiggling the rotor blades and verifying the performance of the inertial measurement unit, as well as testing the entire rotor system during a spin-up to 2,537 rpm (while Ingenuity's landing gear remain firmly on the surface).

The First Flight Test on Mars

Once the team is ready to attempt the first flight, Perseverance will receive and relay to Ingenuity the final flight instructions from JPL mission controllers. Several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns plus measurements taken by the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) aboard Perseverance. Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second), the helicopter will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, the Mars Helicopter will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.

Several hours after the first flight has occurred, Perseverance will downlink Ingenuity's first set of engineering data and, possibly, images and video from the rover's Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z. From the data downlinked that first evening after the flight, the Mars Helicopter team expect to be able to determine if their first attempt to fly at Mars was a success.

On the following sol, all the remaining engineering data collected during the flight, as well as some low-resolution black-and-white imagery from the helicopter's own Navigation Camera, could be downlinked to JPL. The third sol of this phase, the two images taken by the helicopter's high-resolution color camera should arrive. The Mars Helicopter team will use all information available to determine when and how to move forward with their next test.

"Mars is hard," said Aung. "Our plan is to work whatever the Red Planet throws at us the very same way we handled every challenge we've faced over the past six years – together, with tenacity and a lot of hard work, and a little Ingenuity."

A Piece of History

While Ingenuity will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, the first powered, controlled flight on Earth took place Dec. 17, 1903, on the windswept dunes of Kill Devil Hill, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur Wright covered 120 feet in 12 seconds during the first flight. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, each longer than the previous.

A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers' aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first flight is now aboard Ingenuity. An insulative tape was used to wrap the small swatch of fabric around a cable located underneath the helicopter's solar panel. The Wrights used the same type of material – an unbleached muslin called "Pride of the West" – to cover their glider and aircraft wings beginning in 1901. The Apollo 11 crew flew a different piece of the material, along with a small splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer, to the Moon and back during their iconic mission in July 1969.

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NASA release
Mars Helicopter Flight Delayed to No Earlier than April 14

Based on data from the Ingenuity Mars helicopter that arrived late Friday night (April 9), NASA has chosen to reschedule the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter's first experimental flight to no earlier than April 14.

During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a "watchdog" timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from 'Pre-Flight' to 'Flight' mode. The helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth.

The watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned.

The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.

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NASA release
Work Progresses Toward Ingenuity's First Flight on Mars

The Ingenuity team has identified a software solution for the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9) during a planned high-speed spin-up test of the helicopter's rotors. Over the weekend, the team considered and tested multiple potential solutions to this issue, concluding that minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity's flight control software is the most robust path forward. This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and software to safely transition to the flight state. Modifications to the flight software are being independently reviewed and validated today and tomorrow in testbeds at JPL.

While the development of the new software change is straightforward, the process of validating it and completing its uplink to Ingenuity will take some time. A detailed timeline for rescheduling the high-speed spin-up test and first flight is still in process. The process of updating Ingenuity's flight control software will follow established processes for validation with careful and deliberate steps to move the new software through the rover to the base station and then to the helicopter. Intermediate milestones include:

  • Diagnose the issue and develop potential solutions
  • Develop/validate and upload software
  • Load flight software onto flight controllers
  • Boot Ingenuity on new flight software
Once we have passed these milestones, we will prepare Ingenuity for its first flight, which will take several sols, or Mars days. Our best estimate of a targeted flight date is fluid right now, but we are working toward achieving these milestones and will set a flight date next week. We are confident in the team's ability to work through this challenge and prepare for Ingenuity's historic first controlled powered flight on another planet.

Ingenuity continues to be healthy on the surface on Mars. Critical functions such as power, communications, and thermal control are stable. It is not unexpected for a technology demonstration like this to encounter challenges that need to be worked in real time. The high-risk, high-reward approach we have taken to the first powered, controlled flight on another planet allows us to push the performance envelope in ways we could not with a mission designed to last for years such as Perseverance. In the meantime, while the Ingenuity team does its work, Perseverance will continue to do science with its suite of instruments and is gearing up for a test of the MOXIE technology demonstration.

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NASA release
Working the Challenge: Two Paths to First Flight on Mars

Today, April 16, on the 154th anniversary of Wilbur Wright's birth, the Ingenuity flight team received information that the helicopter was able to complete a rapid spin test. The completion of the full-speed spin is an important milestone on the path to flight as the team continues to work on the command sequence issue identified on Sol 49 (April 9).

How did we get to this milestone? As with any engineering challenge, there are multiple approaches that are considered. In this case, the team has been working two potential solutions in parallel.

The approach that led to today's successful spin test entailed adding a few commands to the flight sequence. This approach was tested extensively on both Earth and Mars, and was performed without jeopardizing the safety of the helicopter.

A second approach requires minor modification and reinstallation of Ingenuity's flight control software. The software swap is a straightforward fix to a known issue. But, it will take a bit longer to perform and is a modification to software that has remained stable and unchanged for close to two years. Validation and testing have taken several days, and transfer and loading of these new files will take several more.

Which approach to take? Later tonight, a decision meeting is planned to review all the data from both solution paths, including the analyses, testing, and validation efforts—both here at JPL and on Mars. We will then select the path forward for a first flight. We know people are eager to learn the first flight date, so we'll update this blog on Saturday morning if a flight date decision is reached.

What we've learned from this experience is: working any challenge means all approaches should be considered, even those that may involve risk. Without risk, there is no reward. Just ask the Wright brothers! Working issues in parallel is the hallmark of so many engineering efforts, and we're proud of what our team has accomplished this week. We'll keep you posted on our progress toward the first powered flight on Mars.

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NASA release
NASA to Attempt First Controlled Flight on Mars As Soon As Monday

NASA is targeting no earlier than Monday, April 19, for the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at approximately 3:30 a.m. EDT (0730 GMT).

Data from the first flight will return to Earth a few hours following the autonomous flight. A livestream will begin at 6:15 a.m. EDT (1015 GMT), as the helicopter team prepares to receive the data downlink in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

If the flight takes place April 19, a postflight briefing will be held at 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT).

The original flight date of April 11 shifted as engineers worked on preflight checks and a solution to a command sequence issue. The Perseverance rover will provide support during flight operations, taking images, collecting environmental data, and hosting the base station that enables the helicopter to communicate with mission controllers on Earth.

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NASA's Ingenuity helicopter achieves first powered flight on Mars

A small rotorcraft has made both aeronautic and astronautic history, becoming the first vehicle to achieve powered flight on a celestial body other than Earth.

Named "Ingenuity," NASA's first Mars helicopter lifted off from the surface of Jezero crater on the Red Planet at 3:34 a.m. EDT (0733 GMT or 12:33 p.m. Local Mean Solar Time on Mars) on Monday (April 19). Flying autonomously, the 1.6-foot-tall (0.49-meter) aircraft spun up its four carbon blades to climb to its planned altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds.

Ingenuity then descended and touched back down on its four legs after logging 39.1 seconds in flight.

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NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Logs Second Successful Flight

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter successfully completed its second Mars flight on April 22 – the 18th sol, or Martian day, of its experimental flight test window. Lasting 51.9 seconds, the flight added several new challenges to the first, which took place on April 19, including a higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement.

Above: NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover's mast. This is one still frame from a sequence captured by the camera while taking video. This image was acquired on Apr. 22, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

"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."

For this second flight test at "Wright Brothers Field," Ingenuity took off again at 5:33 a.m. EDT (2:33 a.m. PDT), or 12:33 p.m. local Mars time. But where Flight One topped out at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface, Ingenuity climbed to 16 feet (5 meters) this time. After the helicopter hovered briefly, its flight control system performed a slight (5-degree) tilt, allowing some of the thrust from the counter-rotating rotors to accelerate the craft sideways for 7 feet (2 meters).

"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."

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, the helicopter 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. And 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.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. If Ingenuity were to encounter difficulties during its 30-sol mission, the science-gathering of NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission wouldn't be impacted.

Above: The downward-looking navigation camera aboard NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this image of the rotorcraft's shadow on the surface of Jezero Crater during helicopter's second experimental test flight on April 22, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

As with the first test, the Perseverance rover obtained imagery of the flight attempt from 211 feet (64.3 meters) away at "Van Zyl Overlook" using its Navcam and Mastcam-Z imagers. The initial set of data – including imagery – from the flight was received by the Ingenuity team beginning at 9:20 a.m. EDT (6:20 a.m. PDT).

"For the second flight, we tried a slightly different approach to the zoom level on one of the cameras," said Justin Maki, Perseverance project imaging scientist and Mastcam-Z deputy principal investigator at JPL. "For the first flight, one of the cameras was fully zoomed in on the takeoff and landing zone. For the second flight we zoomed that camera out a bit for a wider field of view to capture more of the flight."

Because the data and imagery indicate that the Mars Helicopter not only survived the second flight but also flew as anticipated, the Ingenuity team is considering how best to expand the profiles of its next flights to acquire additional aeronautical data from the first successful flight tests on another world.

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NASA release by Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot
We Are Prepping for Ingenuity's Third Flight Test

Yesterday I got to write the entry for the second successful experimental flight test from "Wright Brothers Field" in the project's official logbook, which is called "The Nominal Pilot's Logbook for Planets and Moons." Next chance to make an entry is coming up fast: We're targeting our third flight for this Sunday, April 25, with initial datasets and imagery arriving in our control room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory around 7:16 a.m. PDT (10:16 a.m. EDT).

Above: This is the first color image of the Martian surface taken by an aerial vehicle while it was aloft. The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured it with its color camera during its second successful flight test on April 22, 2021. At the time this image, Ingenuity was 17 feet (5.2 meters) above the surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

As many of you know, we carry a piece of the original Wright Flyer aboard our helicopter. Even though we are conducting our flight tests in a tenuous atmosphere over 180 million miles (290 million kilometers) from Earth, we model our methodical approach to experimental flight on the Wright brothers' approach. Our plan from Day One has been to prepare like crazy, fly, analyze the data (like crazy), and then plan for an even bolder test in the next flight.

During the second flight, on April 22, Ingenuity autonomously climbed to 5 meters (16 feet) in height, traveled 2 meters (7 feet) to the east and back, and remained airborne 51.9 seconds. It also made three turns, totaling about 276 degrees.

Above: This image of the official pilot's logbook for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flights – the "Nominal Pilot's Logbook for Planets and Moons" – was taken at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on April 19, 2021, the day of Ingenuity's first historic flight. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

We're being cautious with each new foray in the skies of Mars as we continue to build confidence in the capabilities of this new exploration platform. For the third flight, we're targeting the same altitude, but we are going to open things up a bit too, increasing our max airspeed from 0.5 meters per second to 2 meters per second (about 4.5 mph) as we head 50 meters (164 feet) north and return to land at Wright Brothers Field. We're planning for a total flight time of about 80 seconds and a total distance of 100 meters (330 feet).

While that number may not seem like a lot, consider that we never moved laterally more than about two-pencil lengths when we flight-tested in the vacuum chamber here on Earth. And while the 4 meters of lateral movement in Flight Two (2 meters out and then 2 meters back) was great, providing lots of terrific data, it was still only 4 meters. As such, Flight Three is a big step, one in which Ingenuity will begin to experience freedom in the sky. ​

Above: Ingenuity Mars chief pilot Håvard Grip records data of the first flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter into the official pilot's logbook for the project - the "Nominal Pilot's Logbook for Planets and Moons." (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

After each of our flights, I have had the privilege of filling out our logbook and capturing the flight highlights — something pilots have been doing since the early days of flying. While I've made logbook entries before as a terrestrial fixed-wing pilot, these are the most unusual entries I have made. They are also the most satisfying, not only because they represent flight on another planet, but because each notation represents a trove of valuable data that our team has spent years preparing to obtain.

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NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Flies Faster, Farther on Third Flight

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther on Sunday, April 25, 2021 than in any tests it went through on Earth. The helicopter took off at 4:31 a.m. EDT (1:31 a.m. PDT), or 12:33 p.m. local Mars time, rising 16 feet (5 meters) – the same altitude as its second flight. Then it zipped downrange 164 feet (50 meters), almost half the length of a football field, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second).

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen hovering during its third flight on April 25, 2021, as seen by the left Navigation Camera aboard NASA's Perseverance Mars rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

After data came back from Mars starting at 10:16 a.m. EDT (7:16 a.m. PDT), Ingenuity's team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California was ecstatic to see the helicopter soaring out of view. They're already digging through a trove of information gathered during this third flight that will inform not just additional Ingenuity flights but possible Mars rotorcraft in the future.

"Today's flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing," said Dave Lavery, the project's program executive for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions."

Above: This black and white image was taken by NASA's Ingenuity helicopter during its third flight on April 25, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mastcam-Z imager aboard NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, which is parked at "Van Zyl Overlook" and serving as a communications base station, captured video of Ingenuity. In the days ahead, segments of that video will be sent back to Earth showing most of the helicopter's 80-second journey across its flight zone.

The Ingenuity team has been pushing the helicopter's limits by adding instructions to capture more photos of its own – including from the color camera, which captured its first images on Flight Two. As with everything else about these flights, the additional steps are meant to provide insights that could be used by future aerial missions.

The helicopter's black-and-white navigation camera, meanwhile, tracks surface features below, and this flight put the onboard processing of these images to the test. Ingenuity's flight computer, which autonomously flies the craft based on instructions sent up hours before data is received back on Earth, utilizes the same resources as the cameras. Over greater distances, more images are taken. If Ingenuity flies too fast, the flight algorithm can't track surface features.

Above: This is the second color image taken by NASA's Ingenuity helicopter. It was snapped on the helicopter's second flight on April 22, 2021 from an altitude of about 17 feet (5.2 meters). Tracks made by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover can be seen as well. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"This is the first time we've seen the algorithm for the camera running over a long distance," said MiMi Aung, the helicopter's project manager at JPL. "You can't do this inside a test chamber."

Vacuum chambers at JPL are filled with wispy air, primarily carbon dioxide, to simulate the thin Martian atmosphere; they don't have room for even a tiny helicopter to move more than about 1.6 feet (half a meter) in any direction. That posed a challenge: Would the camera track the ground as designed while moving at higher speed on the Red Planet?

Lots of things have to go just right for the camera to do that, said Gerik Kubiak, a JPL software engineer. Aside from focusing on the algorithm that tracks surface features, the team needs the correct image exposures: Dust can obscure the images and interfere with camera performance. And the software must perform consistently.

Above: This is the third color image taken by NASA's Ingenuity helicopter. It was snapped on the helicopter's second flight, April 22, 2021, from an altitude of about 17 feet (5.2 meters). Tracks made by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover can be seen as well. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"When you're in the test chamber, you have an emergency land button right there and all these safety features," Kubiak said. "We have done all we can to prepare Ingenuity to fly free without these features."

With this third flight in the history books, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team is looking ahead to planning its fourth flight in a few days' time.

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NASA release
With Goals Met, NASA to Push Envelope With Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

Now that NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has accomplished the goal of achieving powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on the Red Planet, and with data from its most recent flight test, on April 25, the technology demonstration project has met or surpassed all of its technical objectives. The Ingenuity team now will push its performance envelope on Mars.

The fourth Ingenuity flight from "Wright Brothers Field," the name for the Martian airfield on which the flight took place, is scheduled to take off Thursday, April 29, at 10:12 a.m. EDT (7:12 a.m. PDT, 12:30 p.m. local Mars time), with the first data expected back at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 1:21 p.m. EDT (10:21 a.m. PDT).

"From millions of miles away, Ingenuity checked all the technical boxes we had at NASA about the possibility of powered, controlled flight at the Red Planet," said Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. "Future Mars exploration missions can now confidently consider the added capability an aerial exploration may bring to a science mission."

The Ingenuity team had three objectives to accomplish to declare the technology demo a complete success: They completed the first objective about six years ago when the team demonstrated in the 25-foot-diameter space simulator chamber of JPL that powered, controlled flight in the thin atmosphere of Mars was more than a theoretical exercise. The second objective – to fly on Mars – was met when Ingenuity flew for the first time on April 19. The team surpassed the last major objective with the third flight, when Ingenuity rose 16 feet (5 meters), flying downrange 164 feet (50 meters) and back at a top speed of 6.6 feet per second (2 meters per second), augmenting the rich collection of knowledge the team has gained during its test flight campaign.

"When Ingenuity's landing legs touched down after that third flight, we knew we had accumulated more than enough data to help engineers design future generations of Mars helicopters," said J. "Bob" Balaram, Ingenuity chief engineer at JPL. "Now we plan to extend our range, speed, and duration to gain further performance insight."

Flight Four sets out to demonstrate the potential value of that aerial perspective. The flight test will begin with Ingenuity climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) and then heading south, flying over rocks, sand ripples, and small impact craters for 276 feet (84 meters). As it flies, the rotorcraft will use its downward-looking navigation camera to collect images of the surface every 4 feet (1.2 meters) from that point until it travels a total of 436 feet (133 meters) downrange. Then, Ingenuity will go into a hover and take images with its color camera before heading back to Wright Brothers Field.

"To achieve the distance necessary for this scouting flight, we're going to break our own Mars records set during flight three," said Johnny Lam, backup pilot for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. "We're upping the time airborne from 80 seconds to 117, increasing our max airspeed from 2 meters per second to 3.5 (4.5 mph to 8), and more than doubling our total range."

After receiving the data from the fourth flight, the Ingenuity team will consider its plan for the fifth flight.

"We have been kicking around several options regarding what a flight five could look like," said Balaram. "But ask me about what they entail after a successful flight four. The team remains committed to building our flight experience one step at a time."

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NASA release
Mars Helicopter's Flight Four Rescheduled

Data received from the Mars Ingenuity helicopter on Thursday morning [April 29] shows the helicopter did not execute its planned fourth flight as scheduled. The helicopter is safe and in good health. Data returned during a downlink at 1:21 p.m. EDT (10:21 a.m. PDT) indicates the helicopter did not transition to flight mode, which is required for the flight to take place.

The team plans to try its fourth flight again tomorrow, April 30, 2021. The flight is scheduled for 10:46 a.m. EDT (7:46 a.m. PDT, 12:30 p.m. local Mars time), with the first data expected back at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 1:39 p.m. EDT (10:39 a.m. PDT).

An issue identified earlier this month showed a 15% chance for each time the helicopter attempts to fly that it would encounter a watchdog timer expiration and not transition to flight mode. Today's delay is in line with that expectation and does not prevent future flights.

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NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to Begin New Demonstration Phase

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has a new mission. Having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible on the Red Planet, the Ingenuity experiment will soon embark on a new operations demonstration phase, exploring how aerial scouting and other functions could benefit future exploration of Mars and other worlds.

This new phase will begin after the helicopter completes its next two flights. The decision to add an operations demonstration is a result of the Perseverance rover being ahead of schedule with the thorough checkout of all vehicle systems since its Feb 18 landing, and its science team choosing a nearby patch of crater bed for its first detailed explorations. With the Mars Helicopter's energy, telecommunications, and in-flight navigation systems performing beyond expectation, an opportunity arose to allow the helicopter to continue exploring its capabilities with an operations demonstration, without significantly impacting rover scheduling.

"The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team's near-term science goals."

The operations demonstration will begin in about two weeks with the helicopter's sixth flight. Until then, Ingenuity will be in a transitional phase that includes its fourth and fifth forays into Mars' crimson skies. Flight four will send the rotorcraft about 436 feet (133 meters) south to collect aerial imagery of a potential new landing zone before returning to land at Wright Brothers Field, the name for the Martian airfield on which Ingenuity's first flight took place. This 873-foot (266-meter) roundtrip effort would surpass the range, speed, and duration marks achieved on the third flight. Ingenuity was programmed to execute a fourth flight Friday, with a takeoff to take place at 10:46 a.m. EDT (7:46 a.m. PDT, 12:30 p.m. local Mars time) and first data to be returned at 1:39 p.m. EDT (10:39 a.m. PDT). The fifth flight would send Ingenuity on a one-way mission, landing at the new site. If Ingenuity remains healthy after those flights, the next phase can begin.

Change of Course

Ingenuity's transition from conducting a technology demonstration to an operations demonstration brings with it a new flight envelope. Along with those one-way flights, there will be more precision maneuvering, greater use of its aerial-observation capabilities, and more risk overall.

The change also means Ingenuity will require less support from the Perseverance rover team, which is looking ahead for targets to take rock and sediment samples in search of ancient microscopic life. On April 26 – the mission's 66th sol, or Martian day – Perseverance drove 33 feet (10 meters) with the goal to identify targets.

"With the short drive, we have already begun our move south toward a location the science team believes is worthy of investigation and our first sampling," said Ken Farley, project scientist for the Perseverance rover from Caltech in Pasadena, California. "We'll spend the next couple of hundred sols executing our first science campaign looking for interesting rock outcrop along this 2-kilometer (1.24-mile) patch of crater floor before likely heading north and then west toward Jezero Crater's fossil river delta."

With short drives expected for Perseverance in the near term, Ingenuity may execute flights that land near the rover's current location or its next anticipated parking spot. The helicopter can use these opportunities to perform aerial observations of rover science targets, potential rover routes, and inaccessible features while also capturing stereo images for digital elevation maps. The lessons learned from these efforts will provide significant benefit to future mission planners. These scouting flights are a bonus and not a requirement for Perseverance to complete its science mission.

The cadence of flights during Ingenuity's operations demonstration phase will slow from once every few days to about once every two or three weeks, and the forays will be scheduled to avoid interfering with Perseverance's science operations. The team will assess flight operations after 30 sols and will complete flight operations no later than the end of August. That timing will allow the rover team time to wrap up its planned science activities and prepare for solar conjunction – the period in mid-October when Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, blocking communications.

"We have so appreciated the support provided by the Perseverance rover team during our technology demonstration phase," said MiMi Aung, project manager of Ingenuity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. "Now we have a chance to pay it forward, demonstrating for future robotic and even crewed missions the benefits of having a partner nearby that can provide a different perspective – one from the sky. We are going to take this opportunity and run with it – and fly with it."

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NASA release by Josh Ravich, Ingenuity Mechanical Engineering Lead
Why Ingenuity's Fifth Flight Will Be Different

Around the time of our first flight, we talked a lot about having our "Wright brothers moment" at Mars. And that makes a lot of sense, since those two mechanically-minded bicycle builders executed the first powered, controlled flight on Earth, and we were fortunate enough to do the same 117 years later – on another planet.

But the comparisons shouldn't stop with a first flight. Ingenuity's fifth flight is scheduled for Friday, May 7. As always (at least so far), our targeted takeoff time is 12:33 p.m. local Mars time (3:26 p.m. EDT, or 12:26 p.m. PDT), with data coming down at 7:31 p.m. EDT (4:31 p.m. PDT). Ingenuity will take off at Wright Brothers Field – the same spot where the helicopter took off and touched back down on all the other flights – but it will land elsewhere, which is another first for our rotorcraft. Ingenuity will climb to 16 feet (5 meters), then retrace its course from flight four, heading south 423 feet (129 meters).

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this color image during its fourth flight on April 30, 2021. "Airfield B," it's new landing site, can be seen below; it will seek to set down there on its fifth flight attempt.

But instead of turning around and heading back, we'll actually climb to a new height record of 33 feet (10 meters), where we can take some color (as well as black-and-white) images of the area. After a total flight time of about 110 seconds, Ingenuity will land, completing its first one-way trip. When it touches down at its new location, we will embark on a new demonstration phase – one where we exhibit what this new technology can do to assist other missions down the road.

The Wrights did that, too. They didn't quit after one successful flight with Flyer I, or even the other three flights they did on that historic December day in 1903. They flew higher and farther in an upgraded Flyer II in 1904, and even higher and farther with 1905's Flyer III. By 1908, the Wrights felt they had conquered the air (at least enough) to begin looking at what kind of practical applications an airplane could be used for. That year they flew the first air passenger (Charles Furnas, their mechanic) and began demonstrating how scouting from an aerial perspective could become a thing.

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took these images on its fourth flight, on April 30, 2021, using its navigation camera. The camera, which tracks surface features below the helicopter, takes images at a rate at which the helicopter's blades appear frozen in place.

So in a sense, over the course of three weeks and four flights, the Ingenuity team has gone from the Wright brothers of 1903 to the Wright brothers of 1908, but in weeks rather than years. We've been able to do this because the rover, which carries the helicopter's communications base station, will remain in the general vicinity for many sols (Martian days) and because on the fourth flight, we actually scouted for a landing zone over 100 meters (328 feet) away. The digital elevation maps put together by the Ingenuity team gave us confidence that our new airfield is flat as a pancake – a good thing when you have to land on it.

There is one other significant factor in Ingenuity's continued operations: Our helicopter is even more robust than we had hoped. The power system that we fretted over for years is providing more than enough energy to keep our heaters going at night and to fly during the day. The off-the-shelf components for our guidance and navigation systems are also doing great, as is our rotor system. You name it, and it's doing just fine or better.

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter's fourth flight path is superimposed here atop terrain imaged by the HiRISE camera aboard the agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Which leads me back to our fifth flight. We are traveling to a new base because this is the direction Perseverance is going, and if we want to continue to demonstrate what can be done from an aerial perspective, we have to go where the rover goes. The Wrights did the same in 1908 – even traveling all the way to LeMans, France, to demonstrate the capabilities of their aircraft.

I think a lot about the Wrights during our flights. I'm sure part of the reason is that I (along with teammate Chris Lefler) had the honor of attaching the small swatch of material from the lower left wing of Flyer I to Ingenuity. But it's more than that. The Wrights showed what could be accomplished with a combination of teamwork, creativity, and tenacity – and a bit of ingenuity and perseverance.

On flight day, when I look around the room and online at our team, I see a lot of the same sort of vision and tenacity/spirit that made the Wright brothers who they were. Together, we are continuing our Wright brothers moments on Mars.

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NASA release
NASA's Perseverance Captures Video, Audio of Fourth Ingenuity Flight

Sounds of the Mars Helicopter's whirring rotors add another new dimension to the historic project.

For the first time, a spacecraft on another planet has recorded the sounds of a separate spacecraft. NASA's Perseverance Mars rover used one of its two microphones to listen as the Ingenuity helicopter flew for the fourth time on April 30, 2021. A new video combines footage of the solar-powered helicopter taken by Perseverance's Mastcam-Z imager with audio from a microphone belonging to the rover's SuperCam laser instrument.

The laser zaps rocks from a distance, studying their vapor with a spectrometer to reveal their chemical composition. The instrument's microphone records the sounds of those laser strikes, which provide information on the physical properties of the targets, such as their relative hardness. The microphone can also record ambient noise, like the Martian wind.

With Perseverance parked 262 feet (80 meters) from the helicopter's takeoff and landing spot, the rover mission wasn't sure if the microphone would pick up any sound of the flight. Even during flight, when the helicopter's blades spin at 2,537 rpm, the sound is greatly muffled by the thin Martian atmosphere. It is further obscured by Martian wind gusts during the initial moments of the flight. Listen closely, though, and the helicopter's hum can be heard faintly above the sound of those winds.

"This is a very good surprise," said David Mimoun, a professor of planetary science at Institut Supérieur de l'Aéronautique et de l'Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO) in Toulouse, France, and science lead for the SuperCam Mars microphone. "We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly. We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere."

Scientists made the audio, which is recorded in mono, easier to hear by isolating the 84 hertz helicopter blade sound, reducing the frequencies below 80 hertz and above 90 hertz, and increasing the volume of the remaining signal. Some frequencies were clipped to bring out the helicopter's hum, which is loudest when the helicopter passes through the field of view of the camera.

"This is an example of how the different payload instrument suites complement each other, resulting in information synergy," said Soren Madsen, Perseverance payload development manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. JPL built Perseverance as well as Ingenuity and operates both of them. "In this particular case, the microphone and video let us observe the helicopter as if we are there, and additional information, such as the Doppler shift, confirms details of the flight path."

SuperCam is led by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where the instrument's body unit was developed. That part of the instrument includes several spectrometers, control electronics, and software. The mast unit, including the microphone, was developed and built by several laboratories of the CNRS (French research center), ISAE-Supaéro, and French universities under the contracting authority of the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (the French space agency). Calibration targets on the rover deck are provided by Spain's University of Valladolid.

Arizona State University leads operations of the Mastcam-Z instrument, working in collaboration with Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. The Mastcam-Z team includes dozens of scientists, engineers, operations specialists, managers, and students from a variety of institutions.

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NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Completes First One-Way Trip

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter completed its fifth flight on the Red Planet today with its first one-way journey from Wright Brothers Field to an airfield 423 feet (129 meters) to the south. After arrival above its new airfield, Ingenuity climbed to an altitude record of 33 feet (10 meters) and captured high-resolution color images of its new neighborhood before touching down.

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter's fifth flight was captured on May 7, 2021, by one of the navigation cameras aboard the agency's Perseverance rover.

The flight represents the rotorcraft's transition to its new operations demonstration phase. This phase will focus on investigating what kind of capabilities a rotorcraft operating from Mars can provide. Examples include scouting, aerial observations of areas not accessible by a rover, and detailed stereo imaging from atmospheric altitudes. These operations and the lessons learned from them could significantly benefit future aerial exploration of Mars and other worlds.

"The fifth flight of the Mars Helicopter is another great achievement for the agency," said Bob Pearce, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. "The continuing success of Ingenuity proves the value of bringing together the strengths of diverse skill sets from across the agency to create the future, like flying an aircraft on another planet!"

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter's was captured after landing on May 7, 2021, by the Mastcam-Z imager, one of the instruments aboard the agency's Perseverance rover.

The flight began at 3:26 p.m. EDT (12:26 p.m. PDT, 12:33 p.m. local Mars time) and lasted 108 seconds. The Ingenuity team chose the new landing site based on information gathered during the previous flight – the first "aerial scout" operation on another world – which enabled them to generate digital elevation maps indicating almost completely flat terrain with almost no obstructions.

"We bid adieu to our first Martian home, Wright Brothers Field, with grateful thanks for the support it provided to the historic first flights of a planetary rotorcraft," said Bob Balaram, chief engineer for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. "No matter where we go from here, we will always carry with us a reminder of how much those two bicycle builders from Dayton meant to us during our pursuit of the first flight on another world."

The Wright brothers went on from proving powered, controlled flight was possible to attempting to better understand how the new technology could be employed. In a similar fashion, NASA seeks to learn more with Ingenuity how operations with next-generation helicopters could benefit future exploration of the Red Planet. This new phase will bring added risk to Ingenuity, with more one-way flights and more precision maneuvering.

Having successfully landed at its new airfield, Ingenuity will await future instructions, relayed via Perseverance, from mission controllers. The agency's fifth rover to the fourth planet is also heading south, toward a region where it will commence science operations and sample collection. The rover team's near-term strategy doesn't require long drives that would leave the helicopter far behind, allowing Ingenuity to continue with this operations demonstration.

"The plan forward is to fly Ingenuity in a manner that does not reduce the pace of Perseverance science operations," said Balaram. "We may get a couple more flights in over the next few weeks, and then the agency will evaluate how we're doing. We have already been able to gather all the flight performance data that we originally came here to collect. Now, this new operations demo gives us an opportunity to further expand our knowledge of flying machines on other planets."

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NASA release
Plans Underway for Ingenuity's Sixth Flight

Plans are underway for NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter to make its sixth flight on the Red Planet in the next week. The flight is the first to be executed during the helicopter's operations demonstration phase and includes scouting multiple surface features from the air and landing at a different airfield. In this new phase, data and images from the flight will be returned to Earth in the days following the flight. The Perseverance rover will not record images of the helicopter in flight, as it is preparing for the start of the mission's science operations.

Above: NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this color image from an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) during its fifth flight on May 7, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity's flight plan begins with the helicopter ascending to 33 feet (10 meters), then heading southwest for about 492 feet (150 meters). When it achieves that distance, the rotorcraft will begin acquiring color imagery of an area of interest as it translates to the south about 50-66 feet (15-20 meters). Stereo imagery of the sand ripples and outcrops of bright rocks at the site will help demonstrate the value of an aerial perspective for future missions. After completing its image collection, Ingenuity will fly about 164 feet (50 meters) northeast where it will touch down at its new base of operations (known as "Field C").

Ingenuity is planning to continue to expand its performance envelope during Flight Six. The top groundspeed Ingenuity is expected to achieve on this flight is 9 mph (4 meters per second) and the time aloft will be around 140 seconds. It is also the first time the helicopter will land at an airfield which it did not survey from the air during a previous mission. Instead, the Ingenuity team is relying on imagery collected by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that suggests this new base of operations is relatively flat and has few surface obstructions.

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NASA release by Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot
Surviving an In-Flight Anomaly: What Happened on Ingenuity's Sixth Flight

On the 91st Martian day, or sol, of NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter performed its sixth flight. The flight was designed to expand the flight envelope and demonstrate aerial-imaging capabilities by taking stereo images of a region of interest to the west.

Above: This image of Mars was taken from the height of 33 feet (10 meters) by NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter during its sixth flight on May 22, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity was commanded to climb to an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) before translating 492 feet (150 meters) to the southwest at a ground speed of 9 mph (4 meters per second). At that point, it was to translate 49 feet (15 meters) to the south while taking images toward the west, then fly another 164 feet (50 meters) northeast and land.

Telemetry from Flight Six shows that the first 150-meter leg of the flight went off without a hitch. But toward the end of that leg, something happened: Ingenuity began adjusting its velocity and tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern. This behavior persisted throughout the rest of the flight. Prior to landing safely, onboard sensors indicated the rotorcraft encountered roll and pitch excursions of more than 20 degrees, large control inputs, and spikes in power consumption.

Above: This sequence of images – taken on May 22, 2021, by the navigation camera aboard NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter – depicts the last 29 seconds of the rotorcraft's sixth flight. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

How Ingenuity estimates motion

While airborne, Ingenuity keeps track of its motion using an onboard inertial measurement unit (IMU). The IMU measures Ingenuity's accelerations and rotational rates. By integrating this information over time, it is possible to estimate the helicopter's position, velocity, and attitude (where it is, how fast it is moving, and how it is oriented in space). The onboard control system reacts to the estimated motions by adjusting control inputs rapidly (at a rate of 500 times per second).

If the navigation system relied on the IMU alone, it would not be very accurate in the long run: Errors would quickly accumulate, and the helicopter would eventually lose its way. To maintain better accuracy over time, the IMU-based estimates are nominally corrected on a regular basis, and this is where Ingenuity's navigation camera comes in.

For the majority of time airborne, the downward-looking navcams takes 30 pictures a second of the Martian surface and immediately feeds them into the helicopter's navigation system. Each time an image arrives, the navigation system's algorithm performs a series of actions: First, it examines the timestamp that it receives together with the image in order to determine when the image was taken. Then, the algorithm makes a prediction about what the camera should have been seeing at that particular point in time, in terms of surface features that it can recognize from previous images taken moments before (typically due to color variations and protuberances like rocks and sand ripples).

Finally, the algorithm looks at where those features actually appear in the image. The navigation algorithm uses the difference between the predicted and actual locations of these features to correct its estimates of position, velocity, and attitude.

Flight Six anomaly

Above: This image of Ingenuity was taken on May 23, 2021 – the day after its sixth flight – by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard the Perseverance Mars rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

Approximately 54 seconds into the flight, a glitch occurred in the pipeline of images being delivered by the navigation camera. This glitch caused a single image to be lost, but more importantly, it resulted in all later navigation images being delivered with inaccurate timestamps.

From this point on, each time the navigation algorithm performed a correction based on a navigation image, it was operating on the basis of incorrect information about when the image was taken. The resulting inconsistencies significantly degraded the information used to fly the helicopter, leading to estimates being constantly "corrected" to account for phantom errors. Large oscillations ensued.

Surviving the anomaly

Despite encountering this anomaly, Ingenuity was able to maintain flight and land safely on the surface within approximately 16 feet (5 meters) of the intended landing location. One reason it was able to do so is the considerable effort that has gone into ensuring that the helicopter's flight control system has ample "stability margin": We designed Ingenuity to tolerate significant errors without becoming unstable, including errors in timing. This built-in margin was not fully needed in Ingenuity's previous flights, because the vehicle's behavior was in-family with our expectations, but this margin came to the rescue in Flight Six.

Another design decision also played a role in helping Ingenuity land safely. As I've written about before, we stop using navigation camera images during the final phase of the descent to landing to ensure smooth and continuous estimates of the helicopter motion during this critical phase. That design decision also paid off during Flight Six: Ingenuity ignored the camera images in the final moments of flight, stopped oscillating, leveled its attitude, and touched down at the speed as designed.

Looking at the bigger picture, Flight Six ended with Ingenuity safely on the ground because a number of subsystems – the rotor system, the actuators, and the power system – responded to increased demands to keep the helicopter flying. In a very real sense, Ingenuity muscled through the situation, and while the flight uncovered a timing vulnerability that will now have to be addressed, it also confirmed the robustness of the system in multiple ways.

While we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter's performance envelope. That data will be carefully analyzed in the time ahead, expanding our reservoir of knowledge about flying helicopters on Mars.

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NASA release
Ingenuity Flight 7 Preview

The next flight of NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will take place no earlier than this Sunday, June 6. Regardless of flight date, data will be returned to Earth over the subsequent three days.

The flight profile will send Ingenuity to a location about 350 feet (106 meters) south of its current location, where it will touch down at its new base of operations. This will mark the second time the helicopter will land at an airfield that it did not survey from the air during a previous flight. Instead, the Ingenuity team is relying on imagery collected by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that suggests this new base of operations is relatively flat and has few surface obstructions.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Another successful flight.

Mars Helicopter completed its 7th flight and second within its operations demo phase. It flew for 62.8 seconds and traveled about 106 meters south to a new landing spot. Ingenuity also took this black-and-white navigation photo during flight.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Location, location, location.

Mars Helicopter will attempt its 8th flight no earlier than June 21. This mighty little rotorcraft will fly about 160 meters south to another new landing site as it continues to travel alongside Perseverance.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Another successful flight for Ingenuity! The Mars Helicopter completed its 8th flight on Monday [June 22]. It flew for 77.4 seconds and traveled 160 meters to a new landing spot about 133.5 meters from Perseverance, capturing its own shadow in this image.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Mars Helicopter pushes its Red Planet limits.

The rotorcraft completed its 9th and most challenging flight yet, flying for 166.4 seconds at a speed of 5 m/s. Take a look at this shot of Ingenuity's shadow captured with its navigation camera.

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NASA release by Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Chief Pilot, and Ken Williford, Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist
Flight 9 Was a Nail-Biter, but Ingenuity Came Through With Flying Colors

It has been a week of heightened apprehension on the Mars Helicopter team as we prepared a major flight challenge for Ingenuity. We uplinked instructions for the flight, which occurred Monday, July 5 at 2:03 am PT, and waited nervously for results to arrive from Mars later that morning. The mood in the ground control room was jubilant when we learned that Ingenuity was alive and well after completing a journey spanning 2,051 feet (625 meters) of challenging terrain.

Above: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took this image overlooking the "Séítah" region using its navigation camera. The agency's Ingenuity helicopter flew over this region during its ninth flight, on July 5.

Flight 9 was not like the flights that came before it. It broke our records for flight duration and cruise speed, and it nearly quadrupled the distance flown between two airfields. But what really set the flight apart was the terrain that Ingenuity had to negotiate during its 2 minutes and 46 seconds in the air – an area called "Séítah" that would be difficult to traverse with a ground vehicle like the Perseverance rover. This flight was also explicitly designed to have science value by providing the first close view of major science targets that the rover will not reach for quite some time.

Flying with our eyes open

In each of its previous flights, Ingenuity hopped from one airfield to another over largely flat terrain. In planning the flights, we even took care to avoid overflying a crater. We began by dipping into what looks like a heavily eroded crater, then continued to descend over sloped and undulating terrain before climbing again to emerge on a flat plain to the southwest.

Above: This map shows the approximate flight path of NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its ninth flight, on July 5.

It may seem strange that the details of the terrain would matter as much as they do for a vehicle that travels through the air. The reason has to do with Ingenuity's navigation system and what it was originally designed for: a brief technology demonstration at a carefully chosen experimental test site.

When we as human beings look at moving images of the ground, such as those taken by Ingenuity's navigation camera, we instantly have a pretty good understanding of what we're looking at. We see rocks and ripples, shadows and texture, and the ups and downs of the terrain are relatively obvious. Ingenuity, however, doesn't have human perception and understanding of what it's looking at. It sees the world in terms of individual, anonymous features – essentially dots that move around with time – and it tries to interpret the movement of those dots.

To make that job easier, we gave Ingenuity's navigation algorithm some help: We told it that those features are all located on flat ground. That freed the algorithm from trying to work out variations in terrain height, and enabled it to concentrate on interpreting the movement of the features by the helicopter's movements alone. But complications arise if we then try to fly over terrain that isn't really flat.

Differences in terrain height will cause features to move across the field of view at different rates, and Ingenuity's navigation algorithm still "assumes" the ground below is flat. It does its best to explain the movement of the features by changes in the helicopter's movements, which can lead to errors. Most significantly, it can result in errors in the estimated heading, which will cause the helicopter to fly in a different direction than intended.

Getting ready for a bumpy flight

The assumption about the ground being flat is baked into the design of the algorithm, and there is nothing we can do about that when planning the flights. What we can do is to anticipate the issues that will arise due to this assumption and to mitigate them to the greatest possible extent in terms of how we plan the flights and the parameters we give the software.

We use simulation tools that allow us to study the likely outcome of the flight in detail prior to carrying it out. For Flight 9, a key adaptation of the flight plan was to reduce our speed at the crucial point when we dipped into the crater. Although it came at the cost of extending the flight time, it helped mitigate early heading errors that could grow into a large cross-track position error. We also adjusted some of the detailed parameters of the navigation algorithm that we have not had to touch so far in prior flights. And we carved out a much larger airfield than in prior flights, with a radius of 164 feet (50 meters). We ended up landing approximately 154 feet (47 meters) away from the center of that airfield.

In the week ahead, Ingenuity will send back color images that Perseverance's scientists are looking forward to studying. Captured in those images are rock outcrops that show contacts between the major geologic units on Jezero Crater's floor. They also include a system of fractures the Perseverance team calls "Raised Ridges," which the rover's scientists hope to visit in part to investigate whether an ancient subsurface habitat might be preserved there.

Finally, we're hoping the color images will provide the closest look yet at "Pilot Pinnacle," a location featuring outcrops that some team members think may record some of the deepest water environments in old Lake Jezero. Given the tight mission schedule, it's possible that they will not be able to visit these rocks with the rover, so Ingenuity may offer the only opportunity to study these deposits in any detail.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
The Mars Helicopter's success today [July 24] marks its 1-mile total distance flown. It targeted an area called "Raised Ridges." This is the most complex flight yet with 10 distinct waypoints and a record height of 40 feet (12 m). Its scouting is aiding Perseverance.
Previous (July 23, 2021) NASA release by Teddy Tzanetos, Operations Lead for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
Aerial Scouting of 'Raised Ridges' for Ingenuity's Flight 10

Ingenuity has come a long way from its original airfield, "Wright Brothers Field," which is 0.64 miles (1.04 kilometers) to the northeast of our current location. We got here during Flight 9, an endeavor that had our helicopter breaking several of our own records as we relocated to the far side of the "Séítah" geologic unit. Covering 2,051 feet (625 meters), Flight 9 was executed so that Ingenuity could provide valuable imagery and information for the Perseverance science team.

Above: This annotated image of Mars' Jezero Crater depicts the ground track and waypoints for Ingenuity's planned tenth flight – scheduled to take place no earlier than Saturday, July 24. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Flight 10 will allow us to reap the benefits of our previous flight. Scheduled for no earlier than this Saturday (July 24), Flight 10 will target an area called the "Raised Ridges" (RR), named for the geographic features that start approximately 164 feet (50 meters) south-by-southwest of our current location. We will be imaging Raised Ridges because it's an area that Perseverance scientists find intriguing and are considering visiting sometime in the future.

From navigation and performance perspectives, Flight 10 will be our most complex flight to date, with 10 distinct waypoints and a nominal altitude of 40 feet (12 meters). It begins with Ingenuity taking off from its sixth airfield and climbing to the new record height. It will then head south-by-southwest about 165 feet (50 meters), where upon hitting our second waypoint, take our first Return to Earth (RTE) camera image of the Raised Ridges, looking south. Next, we'll translate sideways to waypoint 3 and take our next RTE image – again looking south at Raised Ridges.

Imagery experts at JPL hope to combine the overlapping data from these two images to generate one stereo image. Flying farther to the west, we'll try for another stereo pair of images (waypoints 4 and 5), then head northwest for two more sets of stereo pairs at waypoints 6 and 7 as well as 8 and 9. Then, Ingenuity will turn northeast, landing at its seventh airfield – about 310 feet (95 meters) west of airfield 6. Total time in the air is expected to be about 165 seconds.

Ingenuity has survived 107 sols (Martian days) since deployment from Perseverance, 76 sols beyond the original technology demonstration mission it was designed for. It has also successfully executed two separate flight-software updates, improving the aircraft's ability to execute flights and capture color imagery (collecting 43 13 MP images to date). It's flown a total distance of 0.997 miles (1.605 kilometers), with total time aloft of 842 seconds (14 minutes, 2 seconds), in nine flights. Should we be successful, we'll cross the 1-mile total distance metric with Flight 10.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Mars Helicopter has safely flown to a new location!

Ingenuity flew for 130.9 seconds and traveled about 380 meters before landing at a spot that will set up a series of future reconnaissance flights to help Perseverance in its search for ancient microbial life.

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NASA release by Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity Team Lead and Håvard F. Grip, Ingenuity Chief Pilot
Better By the Dozen – Ingenuity Takes on Flight 12

Ingenuity's team is suiting up again for its next big challenging sortie, Flight 12. Taking place no earlier than Monday, Aug. 16 at 5:57 a.m. PDT, or 13:23 LMST (local Mars time), the 174th sol (Martian day) of the Perseverance mission, the flight will venture into the geologically intriguing "South Séítah" region (top yellow circle in graphic above).

Above: This annotated image depicts the ground tracks of NASA’s Perseverance rover (white) and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (green) since arriving on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. The upper yellow ellipse depicts the “South Séítah” region, which Ingenuity is scheduled to fly over during its 12th sortie. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This latest effort will be similar to Flight 10, where we performed some location scouting for the Perseverance team of a surface feature called "Raised Ridges." But, Flight 12 has the potential to have more impactful results. Thanks to its newly enabled AutoNav capability, Perseverance is quickly moving northwest across the southern ridge of Séítah (white path) and will meet Ingenuity in the coming days. As a result, the timing of Ingenuity's Flight 12 is critical.

The plan is as follows: Ingenuity will climb to an altitude of 10 meters and fly approximately 235 meters east-northeast toward the area of interest in Séítah. Once there, the helicopter will make a 5-meter "sidestep" in order to get side-by-side images of the surface terrain suitable to construct a stereo, or 3D, image. Then, while keeping the camera in the same direction, Ingenuity will backtrack, returning to the same area from where it took off. Over the course of the flight, Ingenuity will capture 10 color images that we hope will help the Perseverance science team determine which of all the boulders, rocky outcrops and other geologic features in South Séítah may be worthy of further scrutiny by the rover.

This flight will be ambitious. Flying over Séítah South carries substantial risk because of the varied terrain. Ingenuity's navigation system – which was originally intended to support a short technology demonstration – works on the assumption that it is flying across flat (or nearly flat) terrain. Deviations from this assumption can introduce errors that can lead both to temporary excursions in roll and pitch (tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern), as well as long-term errors in the helicopter's knowledge of its position.

When we choose to accept the risks associated with such a flight, it is because of the correspondingly high rewards. Knowing that we have the opportunity to help the Perseverance team with science planning by providing unique aerial footage is all the motivation needed.

Above: Håvard Grip, chief pilot of NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, documents the details of each flight in the mission’s logbook, The Nominal Pilot’s Logbook for Planets and Moons, after each flight. Entries for Flights 9 and 10 are seen here. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

We are filling out more pages in our pilot's logbook (the Nominal Pilot's Logbook for Planets and Moons) than we ever thought possible. So far, 11 pages have been completed with the statistics and observations of our flights. Before our campaign began, we were hoping for at least one, maybe up to three or four successful flights.

A couple of the things we like to keep an eye on in our logbook entries: Ingenuity has logged 19 minutes and approximately 1.2 nautical miles in the Martian skies (so far). We are happy to report all systems are green and that the helicopter is ready for continued flight operations. For Flight 12, we're not only aiming to add to those totals as we fill in another page of our logbook, but also hopeful that we'll get to include a mention in the book's Remarks section about how much this flight helped our colleagues working on Perseverance.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
A dozen for the books! The Mars Helicopter's latest flight took us to the geological wonder that is the "South Séítah" region.

It climbed 32.8 feet (10 m) for a total of 169 seconds and flew about 1,476 ft (450 m) round trip to scout the area for Perseverance.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Happy Flight the 13th!

Ingenuity has achieved its 13th successful flight on Mars. It traveled at 7.3 mph (3.3 m/s) taking images pointing southwest of the South Seítah region. This aerial scouting continues to aid in planning Perseverance's next moves.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
Flight No. 14:

The Mars Helicopter successfully performed a short hop in its current airfield to test out higher rpm settings so it can fly in lower atmospheric densities on the Red Planet. This test also leaves the team room for an rpm increase if needed for future flights.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
The Mars Helicopter successfully completed its 15th flight on Mars. It flew for 128.8 seconds.

Preliminary localization places us within our targeted landing zone. Ingenuity opportunistically took images of science interest and they'll be processed soon.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory update, Nov. 22, 2021 (via Twitter):
Mars Helicopter continues to thrive! The mighty rotorcraft completed its 16th flight on the Red Planet last weekend [Sunday, Nov. 21], traveling 116 meters northeast for 109 seconds. It captured color images during the short hop, but those will come down in a later downlink.

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NASA release (Dec. 7, 2021) by Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity Team Lead
Flight 17 – Discovering Limits

Ingenuity flew for the 17th time at Mars on Sunday, Dec. 5. After the helicopter executed the planned 614-foot (187-meter) traverse to the northeast, the radio communications link between Ingenuity and the Perseverance Mars rover was disrupted during the final descent phase of the flight. Approximately 15 minutes later, Perseverance received several packets of additional Ingenuity telemetry indicating that the flight electronics and battery were healthy.

Above: In this annotated image, Ingenuity’s flight path is depicted in yellow. Perseverance’s location is indicated in the upper left, with the blue line depicting its line of sight to the helicopter’s Flight 17 landing spot. The topographic map below it indicates the altitude of surface features between the rover and helicopter

All available telemetry during and after the flight suggests that the activity was a success and that the loss of link was due to a challenging radio configuration between Perseverance and Ingenuity during landing. However, before planning our next flight, we need transfer the missing data from Flight 17 from helicopter to rover, and then to Earth, so we can confirm vehicle health.

Based on the telemetry we have, the vehicle performed nominally across the board during its 117-second flight 33 feet (10 meters) above the surface of Mars. The telemetry cut out during the final third of our descent, roughly 10 feet (3 meters) off the surface. Examining how radio links behave in relation to nearby surface features can help explain why the loss of link occurred near landing.

Radio Links

A radio’s signal strength depends significantly on how clear the path, or line-of-sight (LOS), is between the transmitter and receiver antennas. That path can be obstructed by the ground itself if the helicopter lands in a depression or on the other side of a hill, or it can be obstructed by elements of the rover’s structure if the helicopter happens to be on the rover’s port (left) or stern (back) side. In this case not only was Ingenuity challenged with communicating across the rover’s structure and Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG) (see red LOS vector in graphic of rover), but it was also tasked with flying to a landing site which placed a 13-foot (4 meter) hill called “Bras” (named after a commune in France). in the LOS between the two antennas. With a cruise altitude of 33-feet (10 meters), Bras presented little obstruction to our radio link during the majority of the flight. But as Ingenuity began to descend, the line of sight between the rover and helicopter antennas began to become obstructed/shadowed by Bras.

When we originally planned Flight 17, we believed that the rover was going to be parked in a specific location and oriented in a certain direction. However, Perseverance’s plans change day to day to maximize overall science return. By the time Flight 17 was ready for execution, Perseverance had driven to a new location and parked along a challenging heading for radio communications (the red LOS in Figure 2).

Since the start of the helicopters operations demonstration, we have accepted the potential for radio loss on landing due to the nature of our more challenging flights. Ingenuity was designed to handle these situations by automatically powering down after a flight and awaiting further instructions on subsequent sols, which we expect to be the case following Flight 17. These challenges are part of the lessons learned in integrating aerial exploration activities within the complexity of daily rover operations.

Flight Assessment

We believe the flight was a success because nothing in what we see from the available helicopter suggests otherwise. Telemetry is nominal leading right up to the moment that the radio link halted.

Even more telling are the data packets received 15 minutes after the time landing should have occurred. These packets included samples of our battery voltage indicating a +76 millivolts, or a +1.2% state-of-charge increase over 15 minutes. In other words, the battery was being charged by the helicopter’s solar array. This high level of battery charging could only be possible with an upright vehicle, with its solar array pointing to the Martian sky.

Next Steps

The first opportunity to downlink the missing data from Flight 17 will be no earlier than Wednesday, after which the team will finalize its health assessment. This flight was designed to continue our journey back to the “Octavia E. Butler” landing site by flying halfway across “South Séíitah.” We are planning on Flight 18 to occur in the next two weeks, which would bring Ingenuity another ~200 meters northeast, just shy of the northern edge of S. Séítah.

As Ingenuity ventures farther and dares mightier flights in the future, we expect to again encounter loss of radio link on landing, similar to what occurred on Sunday. We will do all that we can in planning to prevent them (when possible), but temporary loss of radio link is a natural part of helicopter operations at the Red Planet.

December 9, 2021, Update:

On Wednesday (Sol 285 in Perseverance’s mission on Mars) the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter relayed additional information on its status. The limited data that was received indicates power aboard the rotorcraft is excellent, which suggests it is in an upright stance, allowing its solar array to efficiently power its six lithium-ion batteries. However, the same line-of-sight issues the team believes impeded communications at the end of Flight 17 still prevented the majority of data packets (including imagery from the flight) to be relayed back to the rover – and then to Earth. The next opportunity for a data transfer is expected to occur sometime within the next several days.

December 14, 2021, Update:

On Friday (Sol 287 of Perseverance’s mission on Mars), engineers with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter mission received enough additional data from the rotorcraft to confirm that the helicopter landed successfully at the completion of its 17th flight, on Dec. 5. During the two data transfer activities on Sols 285 (Wed.) and 287 (Fri.), the mission team maintained continual contact with the vehicle in its low-data-rate radio mode. With the helicopter’s flight success and health verified, the team has begun planning Flight 18, which is expected to take place sometime later this week.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 12-16-2021 10:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Reaches a Total of 30 Minutes Aloft

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.

Above: 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. (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."

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
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posted 12-17-2021 12:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update (via Twitter):
The Mars Helicopter keeps going, going, going! Ingenuity successfully completed its 18th flight [on Dec. 15, 2021], adding 124.3 seconds to its overall time aloft on the Red Planet. It flew 754 feet (230 meters) at a speed of 5.6 mph (2.5 m/sec) and took images along the way...

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 02-26-2022 04:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for Feb. 8, 2022 (via Twitter):
After some dusty weather delays, it's time to celebrate the Mars Helicopter's first flight of 2022! The rotorcraft flew for the 19th time on the Red Planet, soaring for 99.98 seconds over ~62 meters.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for Feb. 26, 2022 (via Twitter):
Flight 20 was a success! In its 130.3 seconds of flight, the Mars Helicopter covered 391 meters at a speed of 4.4 meters per second, bringing it closer to Perseverance's landing location.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-13-2022 10:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jet Propulsion Laboratory update for March 11, 2022 (via Twitter):
Mars Helicopter can’t be stopped! Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet. The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters at a speed of 3.85 meters per second and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds.


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