NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter captures video of record-breaking flight

The helicopter covered a distance of 704 meters (2,310 feet) at a speed of 5.5 meters per second (12 mph).
Loukia Papadopoulos

On Monday, April 19, 2021, NASA made history with Ingenuity by conducting the first controlled flight of an aircraft on Mars. Thanks to onboard data and images sent via powerful X-band transmissions, NASA confirmed that its miniature helicopter slowly rose to an altitude of three meters (9.8 feet) above the surface of Mars, hovered for 30 seconds, and then descended to land on its four legs.

The helicopter's longest and fastest flight to date

Since then, the mini-helicopter has flown many flights on the Red Planet, but it is still breaking some records. On Friday, NASA announced via a press release that Ingenuity's black-and-white navigation camera had provided incredible video footage of its record-breaking 25th flight. The event, which took place on April 8, saw the helicopter cover a distance of 704 meters (2,310 feet) at a speed of 5.5 meters per second (12 mph).

All in all, it was the Red Planet rotorcraft’s longest and fastest flight to date.

“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 the Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

The video clip shows powerful visuals beginning about one second into the flight. Ingenuity can be seen reaching an altitude of 10 meters (33 feet) when the aircraft starts to head southwest while accelerating to its maximum speed in less than three seconds.

Even though it is in black and white, you can clearly see the group of sand ripples that appear about halfway through the video and that Ingenuity hovers over. The chopper continues to fly until it spots relatively flat and featureless terrain where it can properly land on. The whole flight lasted 161.3-seconds, but the video was speeded up approximately five times, reducing it to less than 35 seconds.

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No landing shots

The video, however, does not seem to follow the hovercraft as it lands. This is because the navigation camera has been programmed to deactivate whenever the rotorcraft is within 1 meter (3 feet) of the surface in order to ensure any dust kicked up during takeoff and landing won’t interfere with the navigation system.

Ingenuity flies autonomously and has to go through several channels to communicate with Earth. First, it reaches out to a helicopter base station aboard the Mars Perseverance rover. The rover then transmits the data to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which then beams the data to NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) satellites. Finally, the DSN relays the information down to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Earth, California.

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