Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Reaches New Heights on Second Flight

The Ingenuity helicopter successfully executed a tilting maneuver on its second flight.
Chris Young
Image captured by Ingenuity's black-and-white navigation camera during the flight. NASA JPL/Twitter

NASA successfully conducted the second flight of its Ingenuity helicopter today, April 22, on the newly-named "Wright Brothers Field" — where the historic first controlled Martian flight of Ingenuity took place on Monday — the US space agency revealed on Twitter.

"The Mars Helicopter successfully completed its second flight, capturing this image [below] with its black-and-white navigation camera. It also reached a new milestone of a higher altitude, a longer hover, and lateral flying," NASA JPL wrote.

A NASA JPL blog post has since confirmed that the helicopter took off at 5:33 EDT (9:33 UTC), after which it flew for 51.9 seconds. This time Ingenuity climbed 16 feet (5 meters) into the air — 6.2 feet higher than the first flight — before its flight control system was programmed to tilt 5 degrees during the flight in order to accelerate sideways roughly 7 feet (2 meters).

'Go big or go home!'

In a launch schedule that rivals SpaceX's Starship prototype launches, the Ingenuity helicopter flew again two days after its first flight in a bid to test the limits of the machine's capabilities. The aircraft has now successfully completed two of up to five flights scheduled to take place over the coming weeks.

The Ingenuity helicopter, which touched down on Mars aboard the Perseverance rover on February 18, was designed to test powered, controlled flight within Mars' thin atmosphere — the red planet has only one percent the equivalent atmosphere of Earth.

The helicopter has the potential to revolutionize future space travel by allowing missions to scope planets from the sky via specially built drones — the Ingenuity helicopter is only able to fly thanks to a 2,500 RPM superlight custom rotor system.

As with Ingenuity's first flight, images and mission data from the second flight took approximately four hours to be fully downloaded at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California via a complex space communications network.

Shortly after flight success was confirmed, images and video taken by the Perseverance rover, as well as an image taken from Ingenuity's downward-facing camera were released by NASA.

Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Reaches New Heights on Second Flight
An image taken by the Mars Perseverance rover during Ingenuity's second flight. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

In order to send mission information, the Ingenuity aircraft communicates with a helicopter base station aboard the Mars Perseverance rover. The rover transmits the data to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which then transmits the data over a million miles to NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) satellites.

Finally, the DSN sends the information down to NASA's JPL headquarters in Pasadena, California, where the first indicator of the mission succeeding or not is seen in the form of numeric altimeter data.

'The month of Ingenuity'

"So far, the engineering telemetry we have received and analyzed tell us that the flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate," said Bob Balaram, chief engineer for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, explained in the NASA JPL post.

"We have two flights of Mars under our belts, which means that there is still a lot to learn during this month of Ingenuity," he continued.

Following this flight, the Ingenuity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) aims to fly the Mars helicopter at least three more times in the next two weeks, with each flight reaching new heights.

The second Ingenuity flight took place during a huge week for space news, with NASA announcing the first flight of Ingenuity on Monday, the first extraction of oxygen from Mars' atmosphere today, April 22, Ingenuity's second flight, and a crewed launch to the ISS scheduled for Friday, April 23.

This was a developing news story and was updated as new information emerged.


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