Mars helicopter to try for new speed record on Thursday

57 flights past expected lifetime and still improving

NASA has scheduled the 62nd flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter and given it the job of achieving a new speed record for rotorcraft on Mars.

Ingenuity sets a record on every flight – by adding one to the number of flights taken by a (known) helicopter sent by humans to the Red Planet.

The 'copter was originally only planned to fly five times, as a technology demonstration. Two and a half years later it's still flying – and was scheduled to do so again on Thursday.

NASA's flight plan calls for the craft to ascend to 18 meters and traverse 268 meters over 119.3 seconds, at a speed of ten meters per second.

The Register has poured Ingenuity's flight log into Excel and sorted the data, leading us to conclude that Flight 62 will surpass Flight 60's top speed of 8m/sec.

Flight 62 will be ranked 24th for distance covered, and 34th for duration, by our calculations.

We last covered Ingenuity in July 2023 when it phoned home after touching down in a location that left it unable to establish line-of-sight contact with the Perseverance Rover. It relies on such contact to contact Earth, making the phone call a bit of a big deal. It's flown nine times since, with flight 61 on October 5 setting a new altitude record of 24 meters.

Yes, dear reader, that means a vehicle designed to finish operations more than two years ago is performing better than ever before. That's an exceptional outcome for any system, anytime, anywhere – never mind in the insanely difficult environment of Mars.

It appears to be speedin’ season on Mars, as Perseverance recently set a speed record of its own, when it moved 347.7 meters in a single day – without human intervention.

Ingenuity's record attempt will start and finish at Airfield Tau. NASA describes its goals as "Imaging science targets" and "Flight envelope expansion."

"Inspiration" would not be out of place as an addition to that list of goals. ®

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