The Ingenuity Mars helicopter's black-and-white navigation camera has provided dramatic video of its record-breaking 25th flight.
The flight, which took place on April 8, covered a distance of 704 metres at a speed of 5.5 metres per second. It was the Red Planet rotorcraft's longest and fastest flight to date, NASA said in a statement.
"For our record-breaking flight, Ingenuity's downward-looking navigation camera provided us with a breathtaking sense of what it would feel like gliding 33 feet above the surface of Mars at 12 miles per hour," said Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in the statement.
The first frame of the video clip begins about one second into the flight. After reaching an altitude of 10 metres, the helicopter heads southwest, accelerating to its maximum speed in less than three seconds.
The rotorcraft first flies over a group of sand ripples then, about halfway through the video, several rock fields. Finally, relatively flat and featureless terrain appears below, providing a good landing spot. The video of the 161.3-second flight was speeded up approximately five times, reducing it to less than 35 seconds.
The navigation camera has been programmed to deactivate whenever the rotorcraft is within 1 metre of the surface. This helps ensure any dust kicked up during takeoff and landing won't interfere with the navigation system as it tracks features on the ground.
Ingenuity's flights are autonomous. "Pilots" at JPL plan them and send commands to the Perseverance Mars rover, which then relays those commands to the helicopter. During a flight, onboard sensors, the navigation camera, an inertial measurement unit, and a laser range finder, provide real-time data to Ingenuity's navigation processor and main flight computer, which guide the helicopter in flight. This enables Ingenuity to react to the landscape while carrying out its commands.
Mission controllers recently lost communication with Ingenuity after the helicopter entered a low-power state. Now that the rotorcraft is back in contact and getting adequate energy from its solar array to charge its six lithium-ion batteries, the team is looking forward to its next flight on Mars.
The little chopper landed with NASA's Perseverance rover on the floor of Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021. Ingenuity's $85 million mission was supposed to be done after flight number five.
But the solar-powered chopper had performed so well and remained so healthy, despite Mars's thin atmosphere, that NASA granted a mission extension. Ingenuity is currently preparing for its 29th flight, NASA said.