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NASA Ingenuity to Perform Scouting Flights on Mars

After completing its fourth test flight on Friday, April 30th, NASA has assigned Ingenuity a new mission. The little helicopter will enter a new operations demonstration phase, examining how aerial scouting and other functions could aid future exploration of the Red Planet and other worlds.
NASA’s Perseverance rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter 1 photo
Ingenuity made history on April 19th when it demonstrated that controlled flight in the thin atmosphere of Mars is possible. After that, the helicopter successfully performed three more flight tests in which it flew farther and higher each time.

The original plan was to fly Ingenuity to perform a series of test flights over a 30-Martian-day experimental window and have it return to the Wright Brothers Field's landing site. However, with the Mars helicopter's resources, telecommunications, in-flight navigation systems, and overall performance that exceeded the team's expectations, an opportunity emerged to enable the aircraft to continue exploring its capabilities with an operations demonstration while not impacting the Perseverance rover schedule.

The decision stems from the Perseverance rover being ahead of its schedule since its February 18th landing, and its research team selecting a nearby patch of crater bed for its first extensive explorations.

During the fourth flight, Ingenuity flew up to 133 m (436 feet) to gather aerial imagery of a possible new landing zone before returning to Wright Brothers Field. The upcoming fifth flight would send Ingenuity on a one-way mission and have it settle to the new site. If the helicopter remains healthy and stable after its mission, the next phase can begin. Along with the one-way flight, more precision maneuvering and more risk will be involved.

The operations demonstration will start in two weeks' time with the sixth flight of the aircraft. NASA will evaluate flight operations after 30 sols and full flight operations by the end of August. This would give the rover team enough time to complete its scheduled research operations and prepare for the solar conjunction. The event occurs in mid-October when the Sun will pass between the Earth and the Red Planet, thus cutting communications.

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