(ORDO NEWS) — Ingenuity will continue to fly to the Red Planet and assist the Perseverance rover mission for at least another six months, until September 2022.
Along the way, it will continue to test its capabilities and break records in altitude and flight duration, which will provide invaluable data for designing the designs of future Martian aircraft.
The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced its decision after the 21st successful flight of the Martian helicopter.
Mars helicopter Ingenuity close-up. The picture was taken with the Mastcam-Z camera system mounted on the mast of the Perseverance rover
It was the first of at least three required for the helicopter to cross the northwestern part of the Séítah region, which the spacecraft studied in its first year on Mars, and reach the next exploration area, the Three Forks in the delta of the dry Neretva River. .
Ingenuity’s new flight area is completely different from the featureless and relatively flat terrain it has been operating in since its first flight on April 19 last year.
A fan-shaped delta several kilometers wide, formed by the ancient Neretva River, rises more than 40 meters above the bottom of the Jezero crater, in the western part of which a pair of robotic vehicles are now conducting research after landing.
The former river delta is filled with jagged rocks, sloping surfaces, protruding boulders, and pockets of sand that can be a major obstacle to the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter.
The first can get bogged down in the sand or damage the wheels, and the second can easily roll over upon landing. Nevertheless, the new region should contain numerous geological discoveries – perhaps even evidence of microscopic life that once existed on Mars.
Routes and current locations of the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter in Lake Crater as of Sol 379 (03/15/2022
Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity’s first task will be to help choose the best route for Perseverance to its summit, along one of two dry riverbeds.
In addition, the helicopter-mounted cameras will help the rover operator team identify potential scientific targets for soil sampling, survey distant geological features (outside Perseverance’s visible and passable zone), and scout possible landing zones for the Mars sample return program.
“The Jezero delta campaign will be the biggest challenge the Ingenuity team will face since its first flight to Mars,” said Teddy Tzanetos , Ingenuity team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“To improve our chances of success, we have increased the size of the team and continued to upgrade the flight software to increase operational flexibility and flight safety.”
Some of these updates resulted in a reduction in navigational errors during flight, which improved the safety of both flight and landing. And a recent change to the Ingenuity software exempts it from its previously set maximum climb height of 15 meters (although the device has not previously climbed above 12 meters).
An increase in altitude can lead to a gradual increase in both speed and range. Another update allows Ingenuity to change its speed while in the air and adjust to changing terrain.
Two different routes by which Ingenuity can reach the Neretva Delta at Jezero Crater. The red dot shows the current position of the helicopter after the 21st successful flight
Scheduled no earlier than March 19, Ingenuity’s next flight will be a challenging journey of about 350 meters, including a sharp turn in flight to avoid a large hill in the helicopter’s path.
After that, the team will determine the further route for the final exit from the Seita region. In total, for the entire time of the mission, Ingenuity was in the air for more than 38 minutes and covered almost 4.7 kilometers.
“This upcoming flight will be my 22nd logbook entry,” concludes Ingenuity Chief Pilot Howard Grip of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
I remember when it all started, I thought that we would be lucky if we managed to put three entries there, and very lucky if there were five. Now at this rate, I’m going to need a second book.”
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