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NASA’s Mars Helicopter Flies Again and Gets a New Mission

  • April 30, 2021

But the engineers also knew that if the error recurred, they could just try again the following day, and the second attempt would most likely succeed. That is exactly what happened on Friday.

If Ingenuity continues to operate and prove useful, NASA could continue to extend its life.

Ms. Aung and Bob Balaram, the chief engineer of Ingenuity, said that the helicopter was designed to last only 30 Martian days and that they could not say how long it would remain in working condition. But Dr. Balaram also said the lifetime of Ingenuity was not intrinsically limited. The helicopter recharges its batteries through solar panels, so it will not run out of fuel, for instance.

A top speed of 8 miles per hour may not seem particularly fast, but the robotic helicopter has to fly over an alien landscape with no help from the engineers on Earth. It uses a down-looking camera to map the landscape below, and if it flew too fast, it could lose track of where it was and perhaps crash.

However, Ingenuity has not flown any higher than the 16 feet of the last three flights, even though its two four-foot-wide counter-rotating blades generate enough lift to go higher off the ground. That’s largely a limitation of its altimeter, which measures the height by bouncing a laser off the ground and noting the time for the reflected light to return to the sensor.

Dr. Balaram said the 16-foot altitude was a “sweet spot” that provides good resolution for the images used for navigation.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if at some particular location we are asked to go to a higher vantage point,” Dr. Balaram said. The helicopter could go up to 32 feet or so without causing problems for the altimeter and “provide some panoramic-type imagery that might be useful to the rover operators or the scientists.”

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