NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, which can be seen here about 3.9 meters from the rover. This image was taken with the WASTON camera on the rover’s robotic arm on April 6, 2021, the 46th Mars day or sol of the mission. NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS
After a slight stumble, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has successfully completed its fourth flight. On Friday, April 30, at 10:49 a.m. ET (7:49 a.m. PT), it took off from the Martian surface and rose to a height of 5 meters. It then flew 133 meters south before returning to its original position and landing, spending a total of 117 seconds in the air – the longest time ever.
The flight was originally scheduled for Thursday, April 29th, but a software issue prevented it from taking off. On-site engineers created an update for the helicopter software and sent it to Ingenuity, which was then able to take off.
Ingenuity was also able to capture images of Mars from the air with its black and white navigation camera. And the Perseverance rover stationed nearby also captured the helicopter in flight with its Mastcam Z camera.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover captured this image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (top right) with its left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras that are located high on the mast of the rover. This is a still image from a sequence captured by the camera while the video was being recorded. This image was taken on April 30, 2021 (Sol 69) at the local mean solar time of 12:33:27. NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS
With this fourth test flight, NASA declares the Ingenuity technology demonstration mission to be successful and proves that a flight on another planet is possible. Now the helicopter will embark on a new mission, known as the Operations Demonstration Phase, which will examine how aircraft can be used to support future rover missions, for example by determining safe driving routes.
“The Ingenuity technology demonstration was a complete success,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy administrator of NASA’s directorate of science missions, in a statement. “With Ingenuity remaining in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and advancing the Perseverance Rover team’s short-term scientific goals.”
Rovers have to move very slowly across the surface of Mars to avoid obstacles so they can only explore a relatively small area. With the help of an aircraft that can move much faster and cover a larger area, rovers could examine areas of scientific interest more closely.
“We appreciated the support of the Perseverance rover team during our technology demonstration phase,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. “Now we have the opportunity to pay it up and demonstrate for future robot and even crew missions the benefits of having a partner nearby who offers a different perspective – one from the sky. We’ll take this opportunity and run with it – and fly with it. “