Science

Mars helicopter Ingenuity flies low and slow on lucky flight 13

Number 13 was the best of luck for NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity, as the persevering little craft seamlessly finished its 13th flight on the Red Planet on Saturday (Sept. 4).

Ingenuity, or “Ginny” as it’s nicknamed, arrived on Mars Feb. 18 tucked inside NASA’s Perseverance rover. The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper has flown any longer and farther than mission colleagues initially expected, presently with 13 flights added to its belt when it was initially scheduled to make only a few short technology-demonstrating sorties.

“Happy Flight the 13th!” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages Ingenuity’s mission, tweeted Saturday about the craft’s latest successful Martian journey.

During Ingenuity’s 13th flight, the helicopter, which measures only 19 inches (48 centimeters) tall, traveled at7.3 mph (3.3 m/s), slower than the 10 mph (4.3 m/s) speed it kept up with on Flight 12. On Saturday’s flight, Ingenuity caught “images pointing southwest of the South Seítah region. This aerial scouting continues to aid in planning @NASAPersevere’s next moves,” JPL authorities said in a similar tweet.

During this flight, Ingenuity likewise flew at a lower altitude than during its 12th flight, which additionally occurred in a similar region. On Saturday, the craft flew only 26 feet (8 meters) over the Martian surface, as indicated by a flight plan published Sept. 3 in front of the event. On its 12th flight, Ingenuity traveled around 33 feet (10 m) above the Martian surface.

Saturday’s sortie denoted the second time that Ingenuity investigated the South Seítah region, which has a variable terrain that Ingenuity colleagues have recently portrayed as carrying “substantial risk” while being “geologically intriguing.”

Notwithstanding, in spite of the challenges of the region’s terrain, the flight appears to have gone off easily.

The plan for Flight 13 included investigating South Seítah further, “to scout an area of outcrops glimpsed in Flight 12 imagery — but we’re taking these new pictures while looking back, pointing in the opposite direction,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity Team Lead at JPL, wrote in the flight plan.

On Flight 12, the helicopter investigated the region and took pictures of ridgelines and outcrops. On Flight 13, the team got ready for the craft to rather focus on one specific ridgeline and outcrop, Tzanetos added.

“Another big difference is which way our camera will be pointing. For Flight 13, we’ll be capturing images pointing southwest. And when they’re combined with Flight 12’s northeast perspectives, the overlapping images from a lower altitude should provide valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drive planners,” Tzanetos said.

In additional contrasting this flight with its predecessor, “it again reinforces just how much we’re concentrating our efforts in one small area,” Tzanetos said. “On Flight 12 we covered 1,476 feet (450 meters) of Martian ground in 169.5 seconds and took 10 pictures (again — all pointed northeast). On 13, we’ll cover about 690 feet (210 meters) in around 161 seconds and take 10 pictures (pointing southwest).”

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