NASA's Ingenuity helicopter sets new speed record during third flight on Mars

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CBS News 26 April, 2021 - 06:15am 20 views

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The Ingenuity helicopter broke several records on Sunday morning, rising 16 feet into the air before flying about 164 feet, just over half the length of a football field, at a top speed of about 4.5 miles per hour — up from about 1.1 miles per hour during previous flights last week. 

"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," Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Mars helicopter chief pilot at JPL, said ahead of the historic flight. He said the helicopter is finally able to "experience freedom in the sky." 

NASA said the Ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was "ecstatic to see the helicopter soaring out of view."

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

The Perseverance rover, which landed on the red planet with Ingenuity in its belly in February, captured the flight on video using its MastCam-Z camera. Scientists are still waiting for more video segments to be beamed back to Earth to see the full extent of the helicopter's 80-second journey. 

The #MarsHelicopter is really “spreading its wings” now – even pushing beyond my camera's field of view. Watch my view of Flight #3, as Ingenuity takes off on a long run (164 ft/50 m) down its flight zone and back. https://t.co/ESQu9PIL9S pic.twitter.com/PzEoD3XoHA

Ingenuity has also been instructed by the team to capture even more photos itself, including from its color camera. So far, it appears to be exceeding expectations, outdoing the test flights it performed on Earth.

"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."

Its navigation camera captured an image of its shadow on the Martian surface during Sunday's flight. 

New images, also released Sunday, captured by the helicopter's color camera, show Ingenuity's perspective as it flies above Mars. NASA says the images demonstrate how an aerial aspect could be useful in future Mars missions

There are a lot more things that can go wrong on Mars when it comes to tracking Ingenuity's movements. Dust can obscure the camera lens and interfere with functionality, and the camera needs to accurately track the ground while moving at a higher speed than it did on Earth. 

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

And it's not done making history yet. A fourth flight is scheduled for later this week. 

Sophie Lewis is a social media producer and trending writer for CBS News, focusing on space and climate change.

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NASA's Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, achieves fastest, farthest flight to date

Fox Business 26 April, 2021 - 12:01pm

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SpaceX successfully launches NASA astronauts from Kennedy Space Center into space.

NASA's Ingenuity achieved its fastest, farthest flight Sunday, marking the helicopter's third successful flight on Mars.

According to NASA, Ingenuity took off at 1:31 a.m. eastern time, or 12:33 p.m. local Mars time, rising 16 feet (5 meters) off the ground, the same altitude as its previous flight. 

The helicopter then 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). 

Data and imagery from Ingenuity began streaming into the control room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, at 10:16 a.m. ET Sunday.

An image of Ingenuity flying overhead was also captured by the Perseverance rover. The video of most of Ingenuity's 80-second journey is expected to be sent back to Earth in the coming days. 

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

The Ingenuity team has been pushing the helicopter’s limits by adding instructions to capture more photos of its own – including from a color camera, which captured the helicopter's first images on its second flight. The helicopter’s black-and-white navigation camera, meanwhile, tracks surface features below. The additional steps are meant to provide insight that can be used for future aerial missions. 

"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."

As NASA receives the data from the third successful test, the Ingenuity team is now beginning planning for the helicopter's fourth flight in the coming days. 

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