U.S. space agency NASA said the experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity — in its third flight Sunday on the red planet — flew farther and faster than ever, including during test flights on Earth.
NASA scientists said the vehicle took off and rose to about 5 meters off the surface of the planet — the same height it reached on its second flight Thursday and slightly higher than on its initial flight a week ago. This time, Ingenuity flew about 50 meters down range from its position, traveling at a top speed of about 2 meters a second. The entire flight was about 80 seconds.
As data from the flight was received at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the Ingenuity team said it was “ecstatic” to see how the helicopter performed. Program director Dave Lavery said the flight Sunday was what the team had planned for, “and yet, it was nothing short of amazing.”
The initial data from the flight came in from NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, which is parked several meters from where the helicopter took flight. The agency said segments of that video showing most of the helicopter’s 80-second journey across its flight zone will be sent back to Earth in the days ahead.
The Ingenuity team has been pushing the helicopter’s limits by adding instructions to capture more photos of its own, including from the color camera, which captured its first images on the flight last Thursday.
Ingenuity weighs just 1.8 kilograms and was packed away on the Perseverance rover when it landed on Mars in February. It was unfolded and dropped from the rover about three weeks ago.
NASA considers Ingenuity a technology demonstration designed to test flight capability in the thin Martian atmosphere. It has specially designed rotors that spin much faster than they would have to on Earth to achieve flight. It also has innovative batteries and solar cells for recharging.
Aside from cameras, Ingenuity carries no scientific instruments.