This footage of the Mars Ingenuity mini-helicopter landing on the red planet nearly half a year ago was supposed to be the start of a short-lived mission with only 5 planned flights, but the little chopper has just sent back images from its 12th flight with more planned.
On 19th April, Ingenuity carried out its maiden flight, becoming the first motorized craft to fly on another planet.
The spindly 1.8-kilogramme (3.15-lb) 19 Inch mini-chopper which cost an estimated USD 85 million (GBP 60.9 million) to build was only intended to carry out five missions during its search for signs of prior life on the red planet.
In a statement released by NASA on Friday (3rd September), Josh Ravich, the head of Ingenuity’s mechanical engineering team, said: “Everything is working so well. We’re doing better on the surface than we had expected.”
He added: “When I got the opportunity to come work on the helicopter project, I think I had the same reaction as anybody else: ‘Is that even possible?”
NASA had serious doubts about the efficacy of the project as the air on the surface of Mars is as thin as the air 20 miles (30 kilometres) above earth’s surface. Flying a helicopter in these conditions is hard enough without factoring in the 15-minute-delay
Despite the challenges the mini-chopper has now completed flights at a maximum altitude of 12 metres (39 feet) and has covered an estimated 1.6 miles of the Martian surface.
Currently, the Ingenuity is being used as a scout for the Perseverance rover with its objective being to feed information to the Perseverance team flagging up obstacles and finding points of interest for exploration.
On the Ingenuity’s 12th flight it explored a region named ‘South Seitha’ and found that despite what NASA scientists had predicted the area showed little hope of providing new information on signs of life.
As a result, the Perseverance rover may now be redirected and won’t visit ‘South Seitha’ as Ingenuity found it unlikely to hold any secrets about life on Mars.
Ingenuity is expected to continue carrying out scouting missions indefinitely on the red planet although NASA is concerned that the approaching Martian winter may prove too much for the groundbreaking mini-copter.