NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity just flew farther and faster than it ever has before.
The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity aced its 25th flight on the Red Planet last Friday (April 8), setting new personal bests for speed and distance.
“#MarsHelicopter is breaking records again! Ingenuity completed its 25th and most ambitious flight. It broke its distance and ground speed records, traveling 704 meters [2,310 feet] at 5.5 meters per second while flying for 161.3 seconds,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages Ingenuity’s mission, tweeted on Tuesday (April 12).
According to Ingenuity’s flight log, the greatest distance covered by the helicopter had been 2,051 feet (625 meters), achieved during a flight in July 2021. Its previous speed record was 5 meters per second, which it reached on multiple flights. (5 meters per second is about 11.2 mph, or 18 kph. 5.5 meters per second is roughly 12.3 mph, or 19.8 kph).
Friday’s sortie didn’t set a duration record, however; that mark is 169.5 seconds, set during an August 2021 flight.
Ingenuity landed on the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021 with NASA’s life-hunting, sample-caching Perseverance rover. The little chopper deployed from the rover’s belly that April and embarked upon a five-flight, one-month mission designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet’s thin atmosphere.
Ingenuity quickly left that initial campaign in the dust. It’s now flying on an extended mission, pushing the boundaries of Martian flight and performing reconnaissance for Perseverance, which is making its way to an accessible remnant of the ancient river delta that once existed within Jezero.
Friday’s flight was the second in five days for Ingenuity and its fifth sortie in the last month. Such activity isn’t surprising; Perseverance has been making serious tracks on its drive to the delta, and Ingenuity needs to keep up.
In fact, the mission team wants the helicopter to get to the delta first.
“This is for two reasons: telecommunications and safety,” Ben Morrell, Ingenuity operations engineer at JPL, wrote in a blog post on April 5.
“Ingenuity only communicates with the helicopter base station on Perseverance, so it needs to stay close enough to have a good connection,” he added. “For safety, it is ideal if Ingenuity flies ahead of Perseverance to avoid ever having to fly past or near the rover, to minimize the risk of any close contact in a worst-case scenario.”
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.