Science and Exploration

Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Team Prepares For Flight 30

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 23, 2022
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Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Team Prepares For Flight 30
Mars Ingenuity

At present the team is preparing for Ingenuity’s next flight, which could take place as early as this weekend. This 30th sortie will be a short hop – which will check out our system’s health after surviving 101 sols of winter, collect landing delivery data in support of NASA’s Mars Sample Return Campaign, and potentially clear off dust that has settled on our solar panel since Flight 29.

What’s Happened Lately

It’s still winter at Jezero Crater, which means overnight temperatures are as low as -124 degrees Fahrenheit (-86 Celsius). Winter at Mars also means the amount of solar energy hitting our solar panel remains below what is needed to maintain charge in our batteries both day and night. However, during the day the panel continues to create enough charge to make shorter hops possible. That’s what we did on Flight 29 and is our plan for Flight 30.

But Flight 29 was over two months ago – on June 11 – and Ingenuity has now experienced 101 sols of overnight freezing. To confirm that she is still flightworthy, we performed a 50-rpm spin on Aug. 6, and on Aug. 15 we performed a high-speed spin, which spun up the rotor system to flight-like speeds of 2,573 rpm for several seconds.

Telemetry downlinked after both tests indicates Ingenuity is a go for flight.

Our 30th flight will be similar to our second flight. On April 22, 2021, Flight 2 was the first to include sideways movement: We “translated” 13 feet (4 meters) and then returned before landing. Flight 30 will be shorter, translating sideways only 7 feet (2 meters) and then landing, but with the specific goal of providing a data point on Ingenuity’s ability to accurately approach a landing target. Our navigation system’s performance will be of value to the Sample Recovery Helicopter team (part of the Mars Sample Return Program) in their early design work for a next-generation Mars Helicopter navigation system.

Flight 30 by the Numbers

We’ve scheduled takeoff for later in the afternoon – around 16:00 local Mars time – to give Ingenuity’s batteries a chance to obtain as much charge as possible. When things get underway, the helicopter will climb to a max altitude of 16.5 feet (5 meters), translate sideways about 6.5 feet (2 meters), and then land. Total time aloft will be around 33 seconds.

We intend to continue our flight path toward the river delta in the coming weeks while the environment (and thus the daily recoverable battery charge) continues to improve. With higher battery states of charge will come longer flights, and eventually Ingenuity will be able to power its internal heaters overnight, which will stop its electronics from freezing in the Martian cold each evening. Also planned for September is a flight-software upgrade that will enable new navigation capabilities so that Ingenuity can fly better across the challenging river delta terrain in the months ahead.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.