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More than a year and a half after its first flight on Mars, the Ingenuity helicopter has set a new record.
The small 4-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter made its 35th flight on December 3 and reached a new altitude record of 46 feet (14 meters).
The aerial excursion lasted 52 seconds and took the helicopter about 50 feet (15 meters) to reposition it. It was Ingenuity’s first substantial outing since an 18-second jump and hover maneuver on Nov. 22 to test the helicopter after it received a major software upgrade that could increase the lifespan of the helicopter. ‘helicopter.
The software will help Ingenuity avoid hazards when landing on the Martian rocky surface by generating digital elevation maps when navigating future flights.
Ingenuity was originally conceived as a technology demonstration that would continue just five flights to Mars after hitchhiking to the Red Planet with the Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the Martian landscape since February 2021.
Instead, the helicopter has proven itself time and again as the rover’s aerial scout, flying over areas deemed too dangerous for the rover and surveying potential future destinations.
This expanded role has also sent Ingenuity hovering and landing on much tougher ground than his team ever anticipated. Now that the team has had time to assess how Ingenuity is adjusting to its upgrades, the little helicopter is ready to take off for regular flights once again.
Next, Ingenuity will begin to fly over the steep terrain of the ancient river delta, where water once flowed into Jezero Crater more than 3 billion years ago.
Ingenuity’s surprising journey also paved the way for future aerial exploration vehicles.
“Ingenuity’s success led to NASA’s decision to take two Ingenuity-class helicopters to the Mars sample retrieval lander scheduled for later this decade,” wrote Bob Balaram, Chief Engineer Emeritus. from Ingenuity, in a NASA blog update.
“These sample retrieval helicopters, with wheels instead of feet, and a small manipulator arm with a two-finger gripper, will transport valuable sample tubes from a sample cache depot to The Mars Ascent Vehicle for launch to Earth A more capable Mars science helicopter, capable of carrying nearly 5 kg of science payloads, is also in the early design and design stages.
Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover continues to collect intriguing samples from Mars. On December 2 and 6, the robotic explorer collected its first two samples of regolith, or windblown sand and dust, from a small dune.
“There are so many different materials mixed together in Martian regolith,” astrobiologist Libby Hausrath, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Mars Sample Return scientist, said in a statement. “Each sample represents an integrated story of the planet’s surface.”
Perseverance will deposit some of its samples later this month at a designated flat deposit site. The cache will be collected by future missions during the Mars Sample Return campaign and returned to Earth in the 2030s.
Shattered rock and dust could reveal more information about Mars’ environment and geological history – but it could also shed light on how this dust could impact solar panels, spacesuits and others elements that the crewed missions on the red planet will need.
When Apollo astronauts landed on the moon, lunar regolith was found to be sharp enough to rip tiny holes in their space suits.
Scientists know that the Martian surface contains a toxic chemical called perchlorate that could pose a threat to future explorers if inhaled.
“If we have a more permanent presence on Mars, we need to know how dust and regolith are going to interact with our spacecraft and our habitats,” said Erin Gibbons, PhD student in Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University. in Montreal and member of the Perseverance rover. scientific team, in a press release.
“Some of these dust particles could be as fine as cigarette smoke and enter an astronaut’s respiratory system. We want a fuller picture of materials that would be harmful to our explorers, whether human or robotic.
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