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Nasa’s little Mars chopper just set an out-of-this-world distance record

Following the completion of its 10th flight, Ingenuity has now clocked up a total distance of 1 mile on Mars – a huge accomplishment for the little chopper.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
The Mars Ingenuity helicopter hovers above the surface of the planet during its second flight on April 22. Photo: AP
The Mars Ingenuity helicopter hovers above the surface of the planet during its second flight on April 22. Photo: AP

Nasa’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has flown its first mile on the Red Planet.

The small chopper surpassed the 1-mile (1.6km) mark of its total flight distance on Saturday when it soared over a rocky region called “Raised Ridges” at its Jezero Crater home.

The sortie was the 10th and highest trip yet for Ingenuity, which arrived on Mars with Nasa’s Perseverance rover in February. Ingenuity’s first flight occurred in April.

“With the Mars Helicopter’s flight success today, we crossed its 1-mile total distance flown to date,” officials with Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California wrote in an Instagram update late Saturday. JPL is home to the mission control for Perseverance and Ingenuity.

Flight 10 was the most challenging yet for Ingenuity, with 10 different waypoints for the helicopter to hit as it flew over its “Raised Ridges” target, reports space.com.

It reached a maximum altitude of 40 feet (12m), a new record height, and flew about 310 feet (95m). From take off to landing, the entire flight lasted 165.4 seconds or just under three minutes.

During the flight, Ingenuity was expected to snap a series of images, including ones that could help scientists create stereo images of the Raised Ridges rocks.

“We will be imaging Raised Ridges because it’s an area that Perseverance scientists find intriguing and are considering visiting sometime in the future,” JPL mission managers said in a July 23 status update.

Raised Ridges is part of a fracture system, where water and other fluids could have flowed beneath the Martian surface.

Ingenuity is now parked on its seventh airfield on Mars as mission scientists examine telemetry and images from the flight.

Originally designed to fly four flights on Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter is the first vehicle to ever attempt powered flight on another world. The 1.8kg chopper arrived on Mars folded up in the belly of the Perseverance rover and was initially expected to fly only four flights over 30 Martian days (called sols) as a proof of concept.

The solar-powered helicopter completed its primary mission in April, with Nasa extending its operations. In this extended phase, Ingenuity is being used for reconnaissance to seek out interesting spots for the Perseverance rover.

“Aerial scouting aids the Perseverance Mars rover team in deciding what moves to make next,” JPL officials wrote in Saturday’s update.

Nasa is using the robotic duo to learn more about the Martian planet and find possible signs of life.

Nasa has not yet revealed plans for Flight 11 but the helicopter has already proven to be an invaluable asset and is showing the way similar space helicopters could be used on future missions to other celestial bodies.

As Nasa continues to explore Mars, the Moon, Europa, and other destinations, Ingenuity is laying the groundwork for years of future exploration to come.