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More than a year and a half after its first flight on Mars, the Ibdaa helicopter set a new record.
The small 4-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter completed its 35th flight on December 3 and reached a record height of 46 feet (14 meters).
The flight lasted 52 seconds and the helicopter took about 50 feet (15 m) to change position. This was Ingenuity’s first big flight since the 18-second jump and maneuver hover on November 22 to test the helicopter after receiving a major software upgrade that could extend the helicopter’s lifespan.
The software will help Ingenuity avoid hazards when landing on Mars’ rocky surface by creating digital elevation maps as they navigate future flights.
The creation was initially conceived as a technical demonstration that would follow just five flights on Mars after it was connected to the Red Planet by the Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the Martian landscape since February 2021.
Instead, the helicopter has proven itself time and time again and has become the rover’s aerial reconnaissance, flying over areas deemed too dangerous for the rover and surveying potential future destinations.
This expanded role has also made Creativity flying over and landing on much more challenging terrain than her team could have anticipated. Now that the team has had time to evaluate how Ingenuity will adapt its upgrades, the little helicopter is ready to take off on regular flights again.
Then, creativity will begin to soar over the steep terrain of the ancient river delta, where water once flowed into Jezero Crater more than 3 billion years ago.
Ingenuity’s surprise flight also paved the way for the aerial exploration vehicles of the future.
“The success of Ingenuity led to NASA’s decision to take two Ingenuity-class helicopters aboard a Mars sample retrieval rover scheduled for later in the decade,” Bob Balaram, Emeritus Creativity chief engineer, wrote in a NASA blog update.
“These sample recovery helicopters, with wheels instead of feet, and a small manipulator arm with a two-finger gripper, will, if necessary, carry valuable sample tubes from a sample stash repository to the Mars Ascent Vehicle for launch back to Earth. The most capable Mars science helicopter also has the capacity able to carry approximately 5 kg scientific payloads in the early concept and design stages.
Meanwhile, the Persevering rover continues to collect interesting samples from Mars. On December 2 and December 6, the robotic explorer collected two samples of regolith, or wind-blown sand and dust, from the small sand dune.
“There’s a lot of different material mixed into the Martian regolith,” astrobiologist Libby Hauserath, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Mars sample return scientist, said in a statement. “Each sample represents an integrated history of the planet’s surface.”
Perseverance will drop some of its samples later this month at a designated flat warehouse location. The cache will be collected by future missions during the Mars Sample Return campaign and returned to Earth in the 2030s.
Fractured rock and dust could reveal more information about the environment and geological history of Mars — but it could also shed light on how this dust affects solar panels, spacesuits and other items required by crew missions to the Red Planet.
When the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, it was discovered that the lunar regolith was sharp enough to rip small holes in their spacesuits.
Scientists know that the surface of Mars contains a toxic chemical called perchlorate that could pose a threat to future explorers if inhaled.
“If we’re going to have a permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how dust and regolith interact with our spacecraft and habitats,” said Erin Gibbons, a doctoral student in Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University in Montreal and a member of the Perseverance rover. Science team in a statement.
“Some of these dust grains can be as fine as cigarette smoke, and they could get into an astronaut’s breathing apparatus. We want a fuller picture of what substances might harm our explorers, whether they be humans or robots.”
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