The mission was originally to make up to five flights on Mars if it was to be able to take off on the red planet at all. This so-called technology test went so overwhelmingly well that the helicopter was allowed to continue on more operational missions, as a scout for the Mars rover Perseverance.
This weekend, the helicopter was able to register for the tenth successful flight, with the longest and most demanding route to date. The craft followed a programmed route with ten points in the so-called “Raised Ridges” area, which is highly relevant for further exploration during later expeditions. The whole journey took just under three minutes.
Ingenuity is said to have photographed several color images along the way, including images that will later be combined into stereoscopic images. This is done by taking one picture, then moving a short distance and taking a new picture in the same direction. Four such double photographs were programmed on the trip. Each exposure produces a color image of 13 megapixels, which is eventually sent to Earth via the rover and a satellite.
Must be programmed
Here it is worth remembering that every flight on Mars must be programmed in advance, due to the significant signal delay between our two planets. A built-in navigation camera and relatively deterministic programming mean that the craft can take into account terrain, wind, and other conditions that can affect the journey. Nasa will not be informed until afterward about how the flight actually went.
So far, from the tenth flight, we have only seen images from the navigation camera, with the gradually characteristic and iconic dragonfly shadow on the ground. When the color images have been downloaded and processed on the ground, you will with simple equipment be able to see images from the air with a three-dimensional effect. There are already such stereoscopic pictures taken with the rover.
The Norwegian engineer Håvard Fjær Grip is responsible for planning the flights with Ingenuity, right from the first, historic voyage. He describes the previous flight, number nine, as a “nail-biter”. It flew longer and at a higher speed, in a very demanding terrain to navigate.
Had to cheat the algorithms
To achieve this, the team had to trick the algorithms into believing that the helicopter would fly over a flat surface, while in reality, it was flying over a crater. This was compensated by adding lower speed at critical points, higher margins of error, and not least a lot of simulated testing in advance.
The images from this voyage could be important in the further exploration of the planet, as it is not a matter of course that a rover or other spacecraft gets there immediately. The photographed area “Pilot Pinnacle” is among the areas that are imagined that there may have been water on Mars.
Flew twice as much
With the tenth flight, the Mars Helicopter has flown twice as many flights as planned, and no one can say exactly how long it will fly. But it will become increasingly demanding as autumn announces its arrival on Mars, at the same time as the flights must not get in the way of research on the “mother ship” Mars Perseverance rover. Therefore, an August set is a preliminary time horizon.