Mars helicopter flies for the 32nd time

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has flown again, rising above the Martian sky for the first time in weeks.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California leads the Mars Helicopter mission.

Sunday’s flight was his 32nd overall for Ingenuity and his second this month. A 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft he also took off on 6 September. Its early flight brought Ingenuity close to the ancient river delta on the floor of Mars’ Jezero crater. This delta is a 45-kilometer-wide hole in the ground that the helicopter and its robotic partner her Perseverance rover have been exploring since his February 2021. Sunday’s deployment is believed to continue this progress, as members of the Ingenuity team say reaching Delta is a near-term priority.

Perseverance has been investigating Delta for several months. The car-sized rover has collected four of her rock samples from the formation since July. Two of them are from rocks rich in carbonaceous organic molecules, the building blocks of life.

If all goes according to plan, researchers will be able to study this fascinating material in detail on Earth. Working with NASA and the European Space Agency, he plans to bring a rover sample to Earth as early as 2033. The sample return architecture includes two Ingenuity-like helicopters capable of carrying sample tubes from one or more depots in Yezero’s soil to a rocket launching from the Red Planet. (Other robots that will carry that rocket and samples to Earth are still in development.) Whether helicopters will be pushed into such service is unknown at this time. Persistence may allow the tube to be delivered to the rocket by itself.

Ingenuity first launched her five flight demonstration missions to show that helicopter flight in the thin atmosphere of Mars is possible. The helicopter quickly coped with this task and switched to an extended mission. Meanwhile, it acts as a perseverance scout.

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