NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has flown for the 15th time on Mars, starting a journey back to its starting point for future missions in a new direction.
The latest flight, over the weekend, was relatively short — at just 128 seconds — and was designed in part to further test flight conditions at Jezero Crater now that summer has arrived.
“Ingenuity opportunistically took images of science interest and they’ll be processed soon,” NASA posted on Twitter.
Flight controllers plan a series of flights in coming weeks to send the Mars helicopter Ingenuity back to where it began its adventure near the Perseverance rover’s landing site.
“Ingenuity is ready to begin the journey back to the Wright Brothers Field at the Octavia E. Butler landing site, before venturing beyond,” NASA Ingenuity team leader Teddy Tzanetos said earlier in a blog post on NASA’s website.
Wright Brothers Field is what NASA named the location of Ingenuity’s first five flights that demonstrated such a craft could fly in the thin Martian atmosphere.
Since then, NASA has used Ingenuity to scout for its big buddy on Mars, the Perseverance rover. Both robotic explorers were launched together from Florida n July 2020.
The helicopter generally has flown ahead of the rover to photograph routes and interesting rocks Perseverance could sample with its drill.
Ingenuity’s total flight distance is approaching 10,000 feet, or close to 2 miles, but sometimes it has flown a circuitous route to capture images, so the journey back to the starting point will be far less distance than the trip out.
The rover and helicopter went south from their landing site to investigate some outcrops, but NASA now wants to explore north and west of the starting point. The mission is focused on finding possible signs of ancient life.
Once Ingenuity and Perseverance return to their landing site, the tiny, 4-pound drone will “join Perseverance in the trek north … before traveling west to reach the Jezero ancient river delta.”
NASA also is preparing a flight software upgrade which “will potentially enable new navigation capabilities onboard,” according to Tzanetos’ blog post.