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Ingenuity Helicopter Makes a Short Hop on Mars to Test New Capabilities

NASA's little helicopter is back in business. Ingenuity successfully completed Flight 34 on the Red Planet. This was actually the shortest flight ever performed by the rotorcraft in the thin atmosphere of Mars. However, the short hop played a significant role in testing the capabilities of a major software update.
Ingenuity Mars helicopter 6 photos
Ingenuity snapped an image of the Martian terrain during Flight 33Ingenuity snapped an image of the Martian terrain during Flight 33Ingenuity snapped an image of the Martian terrain during Flight 33Ingenuity snapped an image of the Martian terrain on Oct 18Ingenuity snapped an image of the Martian terrain during Flight 33
Ingenuity was designed as a technology experiment meant to demonstrate that controlled flight was possible on another planet. NASA initially planned only five experimental flights, but the helicopter continued to exceed expectations. Now, after a year and a half of operations, Ingenuity aced Flight 34. The agency describes it as the "shortest flight in Martian aviation history."

That's because this was just a small hop that lasted 18 seconds. The chopper rose to a little over 16 feet (5 meters), stayed in the air for a bit, and landed. The trip was even shorter than its first one. But that small leap was a big deal for the helicopter.

Ingenuity was developed to function on flat Martian terrain. And ever since it arrived on the Red Planet, the helicopter mostly flew over smooth terrain. However, over the past few months, the chopper and its robotic partner, Perseverance, moved to explore the ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater. The crater floor features rocky terrain, and that poses a challenge for Ingenuity.

To avoid navigation errors that could be caused by boulders, rocks, or hills, NASA installed a major software update aboard the rotorcraft. The update makes it possible for Ingenuity to overcome possible obstacles posed by the rough terrain.

This software upgrade includes hazard avoidance on landing and makes use of Ingenuity's navigation camera, allowing it to detect safe landing zones mid-flight. So, the team behind the helicopter will be able to reroute it while preparing to land.

Flight 34 might've been a short hop, but it provided crucial information. The team will start testing these new capabilities using the data collected. This improved Ingenuity will be able to operate better in the Jezero crater and act as a scout for the Perseverance rover.



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