Following a few hiccups ahead of its tests on Mars, NASA seems to have found a groove when it comes to testing Ingenuity, the tiny helicopter which has now completed three flights on Mars.
The most impressive of those flights took place at the weekend on 25th April when Ingenuity flew 50 metres while hitting a top speed of two metres per second during its 80 second long flight.
You can see the flight in the video below as captured by the Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z imager.
“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” said Ingenuity Mars Helicopter programme head, Dave Lavery. “With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions.”
The team at NASA is reportedly pushing the helicopter to its limits and this involves taking colour photos. This seems like a strange limit at first glance by NASA’s account, it’s quite tricky getting a good image from a flying helicopter 297 million kilometres away.
According to the space faring organisation, for Ingenuity to grab a high quality image the algorithm that tracks surface features must work correctly, dust can’t be obscuring the lens and the software has to be working correctly.
While NASA can test many things in a lab, those tests can prepare it for real-world scenarios.
“When you’re in the test chamber, you have an emergency land button right there and all these safety features. We have done all we can to prepare Ingenuity to fly free without these features,” explains software engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Gerik Kubiak.
NASA hopes to have Ingenuity up in the air again in a few days time.