New from Ingenuity, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced on March 15 that the Martian helicopter would continue to fly on Mars until at least September. It is thus an extension of more for the device which was planned to fly 5 times at most. With this extension of the mission, JPL engineers plan to make special updates to the on-board software so that Ingenuity can continue to support the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity’s first flight took place on April 19, 2021. It was a milestone for space exploration as it was the first-ever flight of a human device to another planet. The researchers were also able to prove that it was possible to fly a device in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Today, the helicopter has already been able to perform 21 flights. Its total flight time is 38 minutes, and it has traveled a total of 4.6 km.
From now on, Ingenuity will be tasked with helping Perseverance explore the remains of the delta that lies inside Jezero Crater. This is a site where scientists hope to find signs of ancient microbial life.
Updates to install
According to Teddy Tzanetos, team leader in charge of Ingenuity, they continue to adapt to be able to support the helicopter during its extended mission. He added that engineers are preparing flight software updates to improve operational flexibility and flight safety.
Among the improvements already made to the software, there is for example the possibility for the helicopter to exceed the flight ceiling of 15 m. This allows you to gain speed and range.
According to JPL, future updates may also implement altimeter maps in the navigation filter, as well as an obstacle avoidance capability during landings.
A support mission
Ingenuity is already preparing for its 22th flight which will take place on March 19 at the earliest. During this flight, the aircraft will fly a distance of 350 m and make a sharp turn in the open air around a hill. After that, it will take another 2 or 3 flights before reaching the delta.
When Ingenuity arrives at the delta, his role will be to help engineers decide which of the two existing dry channels Perseverance should head to. Apart from that, the helicopter will be able to observe geological features inaccessible to the rover from the ground. Ingenuity could also be used to identify landing zones for the future mission to recover samples collected by Perseverance.