NASA's 161-second helicopter tour of Martian terrain

Ingenuity footage sent back to Earth via Perseverance, despite looming battery problem


Video On Friday NASA released footage of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying further and faster than ever before.

The film recorded during Ingenuity's 25th flight on April 8 when it flew 704 meters at up to 5.5 meters per second.

In the sped-up footage shown below, the vehicle climbs to 10 meters, heads southwest, accelerates to max speed in under three seconds, and flies over Martian sand ripples and rock fields before landing on relatively flat terrain.

Youtube Video

The navigation camera turns off when the rotorcraft is within a meter of landing to keep dust off its navigation system.

The flights are designed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which sends commands to the Perseverance Mars rover, which in turn relays them to Ingenuity. Ingenuity uses onboard sensors to provide real-time data to its own navigation processor and main flight computer, which then allow it to react in real time.

On April 19, 2021, Ingenuity became the first aircraft ever to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. It now has 28 flights under its belt, meaning it has completed three flights since the April 8 footage was recorded, but as it takes longer for videos to come back from Mars than images or other data, one can understand the delay in making the information public. The Jezero crater in which Ingenuity landed in 2021 is some 314 million miles (505 million kilometers) away.

Perseverance can achieve transmission rates of up to 2Mb/s to its overhead orbiters, which then relay that data back to Earth at between 500Kb/s to around 3Mb/s, depending on the relative position between Mars and Earth.

NASA has been busy this month re-establishing connection between Perseverance and Ingenuity.

The two spacecraft lost communication over May 3-5 due to dust covering the helicopter's solar panels, which prevented the batteries from charging. The field-programmable gate array (FPGA) that manages Ingenuity's operational state then powered down, as did its heaters. When it came back online, its clocks had reset – which is not good for a number of reasons, one being that the FPGA manages the heaters that protect the electronics from frigid Martian night temperatures.

NASA heeded a warning regarding future performance:

One radio communications session does not mean Ingenuity is out of the woods. The increased (light-reducing) dust in the air means charging the helicopter's batteries to a level that will allow important components (like the clock and heaters) to remain energized throughout the night presents a significant challenge.

JPL's Ingenuity team lead, Teddy Tzanetos, penned a status update on Friday promising that Ingenuity's 29th flight may occur in the next few sols or Martian days, "assuming winter recommissioning activities complete nominally."

Tzanetos also detailed how remarkable it is for this helicopter to not only still be running, but to provide humans with that 161.3 seconds of footage.

"After hundreds of sols and dozens of flights beyond the five flights originally planned, the solar-powered helicopter is in uncharted terrain. We are now operating far outside our original design limits," said Tzanetos. ®

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