NASA's tiny Mars helicopter completes shortest flight in Martian aviation history
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter successfully conducted a short hover for Flight 34 on November 24. The 8-second flight simply popped up to a little over 16 feet (5 meters), hovered, and then landed, making it the shortest flight in Martian aviation history.
NASA's Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover in July 2020 and landed at the planet's Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.
While Flight 34 was shorter than Ingenuity's first flight, it tested out the capabilities of a major software update aboard the rotorcraft. This software update provides the helicopter with two major new capabilities: hazard avoidance when landing and the use of digital elevation maps to help navigate.
Before this update, Ingenuity's pilots needed to find airfields free of any rocks or other obstacles that could potentially damage the helicopter when landing. Using its downward-facing navigation camera, this software update adds hazard avoidance on landing. While in flight, the rotorcraft will identify the safest visible landing site. When preparing to land, it will then divert over to this selected site.
Ingenuity's navigation software was designed to assume the vehicle was flying over flat terrain. The software update also corrects this flat-ground assumption by using digital elevation maps of Jezero Crater to help the navigation software distinguish between changes in terrain and vehicle movement. This increases Ingenuity's accuracy, allowing the pilots to target smaller airfields going forward.
"Flight 34 may not seem like much, but it was Ingenuity's first with this software update. The team will use results from this simple flight to start testing these new capabilities, ensuring that everything works as expected on the surface of Mars," Joshua Anderson, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Operations Lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.
The #MarsHelicopter completes the shortest flight in Martian aviation history! Ingenuity conducted a short hover for Flight 34, popping up 16 ft (5 meters) for 18 seconds. This flight tested out the capabilities of a major software update. https://t.co/rBpcSYubaJ pic.twitter.com/7D2DKkAcrf— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) November 23, 2022