With 21 Flights Under its Belt, Ingenuity is Getting a Mission Extension
The helicopter currently zipping around Mars, Ingenuity, has been a hotly debated topic here at UT. After completing its 21st mission and having been on the planet for just over a year, Ingenuity’s handlers have officially extended its mission in the hopes that it will continue its stellar, groundbreaking performances.
Perseverance, Ingenuity’s rover companion, is starting its second scientific campaign, which will take it 130 meters up from the Jezero crater floor to a dried-up river delta. Here, it will concentrate on one of its primary missions: looking for signs of ancient life on Mars. And ingenuity will play a role in paving the way.
Even Ingenuity’s route to the river delta, which isn’t restricted to staying on the ground, will be difficult. It will most likely take three separate flights to reach a new staging area in the delta, including one that circles a hill rising from the crater floor. During this time, it will assist in scouting a path for Perseverance to take, including providing information to help the rover decide which of two river channels to take to reach the delta itself.
Ingenuity in-situ near a rock field. Credit – NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU
Simultaneously, it will continue its own exploration program, including looking for geologic features of interest and scouting landing zones for the eventual Mars Sample Return mission, which will land in the same general area to pick up the samples collected by Perseverance. It will also upgrade its own software.
Some software upgrades have already enabled the helicopter to fly higher than its previous maximum altitude of 50 meters. Other enhancements include the ability to change speeds and adapt to changes in terrain, all of which improve the overall efficacy and safety of the helicopter. Finally, the smarter Ingenuity becomes, the longer its mission will be able to last, and future improvements to obstacle avoidance and terrain maps are still in the works.
However, any flights beyond this point are merely icing on the cake. “When this all started, I remember thinking that we’d be lucky to get three entries [in my logbook] and extremely lucky to get five.” “At this rate, I’m going to need a second book,” Hvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at JPL, said.
Håvard Fjær Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot Credit – NASA JPL
The little helicopter that could has traveled nearly 5 kilometers (3 miles) and spent 38 minutes in the air so far. The next step will be a 350-meter journey toward the river delta, which is scheduled to take place around the time this article is written. So far, the Ingenuity team has done an outstanding job of transforming a complex task into a huge success. It’s now up to them to keep going.