NASA’s Mars helicopter flies faster than ever before

NASA’s Mars helicopter flies faster than ever before

Just a week after setting a new altitude record on Mars, NASA’s impressive Ingenuity helicopter just flew faster than ever, reaching a speed of 17.9 mph (8 meters per second) on its 60th flight . Its previous record was 15 mph (6.5 m/s) during a flight earlier this year.

Ingenuity also traveled 1,116 feet (340 meters) in 133 seconds at an altitude of 53 feet (16 meters) in its fastest flight across the Martian surface.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees the Ingenuity mission, shared the news of the record-breaking flight in a social media post on Tuesday:

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It’s been a great month for the JPL team as they look to push their valiant Ingenuity helicopter to its limits. Just a week ago, the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter set another record by reaching an altitude of 20 meters, beating its previous record by 6 meters.

But his mission isn’t just about setting records. The team sent Ingenuity to Mars with the Perseverance rover, and the pair reached the Red Planet in February 2021. The drone-like flying machine arrived as a technology demonstration, with the team eager to see if such craft could become the first to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet.

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In April 2021, it did just that, entering the history books by rising just a few meters above the dusty surface of Mars before carefully returning for a soft landing. This flight gave the team the confidence to push the drone a little further with each subsequent flight.

It proved so adept at handling Mars’ ultra-thin atmosphere that aerial images captured by Ingenuity were used by the Perseverance team to plan safe and efficient routes for the rover as it moved between places of interest looking for evidence of ancient microbial life. Footage of the flying machine, from such a unique perspective, could also prove useful for future crewed missions to the distant planet.

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But not everything went smoothly, as the helicopter encountered a number of technical problems along the way. It is encouraging that despite the distance between engineers on Earth and Mars, all these problems have been resolved.

Ingenuity’s success means NASA is likely to build more advanced designs for future missions to Mars and perhaps other celestial bodies far beyond.

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