NASA’s Mars Helicopter Celebrates 50th Flight

Dylan Turck
The Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has completed its 50th flight on the red planet since 2020. The helicopter was supposed to be a demo of what the technology could do, but it has exceeded NASA’s expectations.
A rendering of the Mars helicopter Ingenuity. Photo: GPA Photo Archive | Flickr
A rendering of the Mars helicopter Ingenuity. Photo: GPA Photo Archive | Flickr

Ingenuity was an afterthought during NASA’s Perseverance mission which sought to use the technology as a model to create future iterations of the helicopter. The main plan for the mission was to safely land the Perseverance Rover on Mars so that it could collect samples and scan for signs of life.

The helicopter was attached to the rover so it could complete a few test flights on the planet, after which scientists believed that the model would no longer be functional but that they could use the data to improve the model for future missions.

However, Ingenuity has shocked its creators by completing its 50th test flight over the past 763 Martian days. The team behind its creation did not believe that the aircraft would last for more than five flights after its first take-off, but on its most recent flight, it flew over 1000 ft. (300m) in under 132 seconds.

The Ingenuity Of The Perseverance Mission

A conceptualization of a starship preparing to land on Mars. Photo: SpaceX | Pexels

The main objective of the Perseverance mission was to land the Perseverance Rover on Mars. When the team behind the rover finished building it, they noticed it weighed less than they had estimated. With this knowledge, the scientists thought they could test an additional, smaller piece of technology on the mission.

This led to the development of Ingenuity, more affectionately known as Ginny. Ingenuity is named so, due to the way it was built and what it was made of because it was ingenious. The helicopter is, essentially built from scrap parts that had been leftover from the rover and other projects.

Usually, when technology is sent to Mars, all the components are custom-built to survive the harsh elements of the planet. Ingenuity is the exception, with the helicopter using a Snapdragon 801 processor from a smartphone and scrap parts from the workshop with almost no heat shielding and limited software capabilities.

The helicopter was thought to only be able to make five flights and collect data on how scientists can improve the model for future NASA missions, but all in all, it was expected to fail. The helicopter has since collected a large amount of data for NASA and has created over 40 landing sites on the planet.

The Future Of Helicopters On Mars

Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun. Photo: Javier Miranda | Unsplash

The unexpected success of Ingenuity has prompted a shift in NASA’s plans for future missions. NASA had originally planned to send a new type of rover to collect the samples left behind by the Perseverance Rover, but now it has updated its plan to contain two larger Ingenuity-like helicopters to collect the samples.

Currently, Ingenuity follows the movement of the Perseverance Rover and uses its communications system to send data to NASA. In the future, newer models will have their own communications systems and be able to travel to other locations on the planet irrespective of the rover’s location.

The larger helicopters can take close-up aerial footage of Mars to help scientists map the surface more accurately. It could also show potential dig sites for rovers and act as a scout to find new locations for future missions. The helicopters may be fundamental in locating prospective base locations for missions far in the future.


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