In a major breakthrough, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter completed its fifth flight on the Red Planet today with its first one-way journey from Wright Brothers Field to an airfield 423 feet (129 meters) to the south. After arrival above its new airfield, Ingenuity climbed to an altitude record of 33 feet (10 meters) and captured high-resolution color images of its new neighborhood before touching down.
The flight began at 3:26 p.m. EDT (12:26 p.m. PDT, 12:33 p.m. local Mars time) and lasted 108 seconds. The Ingenuity team chose the new landing site based on information gathered during the previous flight – the first “aerial scout” operation on another world – which enabled them to generate digital elevation maps indicating almost completely flat terrain with almost no obstructions.
The flight represents the rotorcraft’s transition to its new operations demonstration phase. This phase will focus on investigating what kind of capabilities a rotorcraft operating from Mars can provide. Examples include scouting, aerial observations of areas not accessible by a rover, and detailed stereo imaging from atmospheric altitudes. These operations and the lessons learned from them could significantly benefit future aerial exploration of Mars and other worlds.
Having successfully landed at its new airfield, Ingenuity will await future instructions, relayed via Perseverance, from mission controllers. The agency’s fifth rover to the fourth planet is also heading south, toward a region where it will commence science operations and sample collection. The rover team’s near-term strategy doesn’t require long drives that would leave the helicopter far behind, allowing Ingenuity to continue with this operations demonstration.