NASA's Mars helicopter is now a fully-fledged aerial scout for Perseverance

Ingenuity's 27th mission zapped images of a Martian ridgeline back to Earth.
Chris Young
An image from Ingenuity; an illustration of Ingenuity.Devrimb/iStock

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter has successfully completed 27 flights.

The space machine, which first took to the Martian skies in April last year, was originally only meant to fly five times.

NASA designed Ingenuity to show that controlled flight was possible on the red planet and that future missions could use drone-like aircraft to explore the cosmos.

The machine has now far exceeded those parameters, and it is now effectively working as an aerial scout, helping the Perseverance team on Earth to decide on the optimal route for their Mars rover.

Surveying Martian landscapes from above

Shortly after the helicopter completed its 21st flight, NASA announced in April it had extended the Ingenuity mission to scout an ancient delta on Mars. Ingenuity has now surveyed the area near that delta in Mars' Jezero Crater, providing new insight into, as well as images of, an intriguing ridgeline.

The new images, taken by Ingenuity on April 23, during the helicopter's 27th flight, show a rocky outcrop that's been called "Fortun Ridge" by the Perseverance team, due to its resemblance to a parish in Norway.  

NASA's Mars helicopter is now a fully-fledged aerial scout for Perseverance
One of Ingenuity's images of the "Fortun Ridge". Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"Ingenuity not only provides imagery from an aerial perspective, but allows our team to be two places at once on Mars," said Ken Farley of Caltech, Perseverance's project scientist. "Sending the rover to survey and prospect in one location while launching the helicopter to survey another hundreds of meters away is a great time-saver. It can also help us explore areas the rover will never visit, as in this case."

Ingenuity provides new insight into the Jezero Crater's past

Fortun Ridge was designated as a point of interest because data collected from orbit, and by Perseverance far away, suggests it is a boundary between two major rock units on the floor of the Jezero Crater. The new data will also allow scientists to better understand the history of the crater floor, providing a better picture of its evolution from an ancient lakebed to the rocky terrain we see today.

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Ingenuity also recently captured images of the Perseverance rover's landing site, including the parachute that was deployed on descent, to provide insight for future missions to the red planet. The helicopter has successfully completed its transition from a proof-of-concept machine to a fully-fledged aerial scout, providing the scientific community with a new vantage point on Mars.

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