NASA helicopter on Mars performs “most grueling flight since flight 1”

Ingenuity saw its own shadow on its ninth flight.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

When NASA sent the Ingenuity helicopter to Mars, it was a gamble. Now it pushes its limits, flies fast and reaches new heights. NASA announced on Monday Ingenuity has successfully completed its ninth and “most difficult” flight to date.

NASA’s goal was to go big with a daring “high-speed flight over hostile terrain” that would take the rotorcraft away from its robotic companion, the Perseverance rover.

Instead of just jumping in front of the rover, the helicopter took a shortcut over a sandy area, setting records for distance, time of flight and speed in the process. It reached a speed of 16 feet (5 meters) per second and flew for 166.4 seconds while taking images of the landscape below.

The terrain below presented new challenges for the helicopter’s navigation system, which was designed to cope with fairly flat terrain. Ingenuity had to make sense of “high slopes and ripples” and his team feared the machine would accidentally land in a dangerous area. NASA described it as “the most agonizing flight since flight 1.”

NASA’s announcement on Monday seems to indicate that the helicopter behaved well. While the theft was risky, it made sense for what has always been considered a high-risk, high-reward technological experiment.

Ingenuity has already overcome a variety of potential obstacles, ranging from a software problem has a in-flight anomaly.

“A successful flight would be a powerful demonstration of the ability that an aerial vehicle (and only an aerial vehicle) can bring in the context of the exploration of Mars – to travel rapidly over otherwise impassable terrain while searching for interesting scientific targets.” , NASA said.

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