NASA‘s mini helicopter on Mars completed its third flight on Mars successfully on Sunday. Ingenuity moved faster and farther than any of its previous flights and reached a peak speed of 6.6 feet per second.
The helicopter on this third flight covered 64 feet (50 meters) of distance, reaching the speed of 6.6 feet per second (two meters per second), or four miles per hour in this latest flight. In its first two initial flights, the craft flew and hovered above Mars’ surface.
“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” said Dave Lavery, the Ingenuity project’s program executive, reported AFP.
The Perseverance rover, which carried the four-pound (1.8 kilograms) rotorcraft to Mars, filmed the 80-second third flight. NASA said Sunday that video clips would be sent to Earth in the coming days.
The lateral flight was a test for the helicopter’s autonomous navigation system, which completes the route according to information received beforehand.
“If Ingenuity flies too fast, the flight algorithm can’t track surface features,” NASA explained in a statement about the flight.
Ingenuity’s flights are challenging because of conditions vastly different from Earth’s — foremost among them a rarefied atmosphere that has less than one percent the density of our own.
This means that Ingenuity’s rotors, which span four feet, have to spin at 2,400 revolutions per minute to achieve lift — about five times more than a helicopter on Earth.
NASA announced it is now preparing for a fourth flight. Each flight is planned to be of increasing difficulty in order to push Ingenuity to its limits.
The mini-helicopter Ingenuity’s experiment will last for a month after which the Perseverance rover will return to its primary task of searching for signs of past microbial life on the red planet.