The aircraft made history last Monday, rising three meters above the Martian surface to complete the first controlled, powered flight by a human-engineered craft on another planet.
Then, on Thursday, Ingenuity soared to an impressive five meters in the air and tested its ability to shimmy from side to side.
On Sunday, the spacecopter lifted off from the Red Planet’s surface at 12:33pm local time (1:31am ET back here on Earth).
It rose to five meters again before revving up its engines to a whopping two meters per second (6.5 feet per second), at which point it flew through the Martian sky, reaching a distance of 50 meters (164 feet) from its take off point.
The entire flight lasted just 80 seconds but marked a huge milestone in the history of human-engineered spaceflight.
Third flight in the history books✅
Our #MarsHelicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther. The space chopper is demonstrating critical capabilities that could enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future missions to Mars & beyond. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/Uaxrr23Rfh
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 25, 2021
“With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions,” David Lavery, the project’s program executive said in a press release, describing the whole endeavor as “nothing short of amazing.”
Range: 330ft (100m) roundtrip
Altitude: 16ft (5m)
Data expected later Sunday. Til then, peep this shot of rover tracks from the 2nd flight. pic.twitter.com/0qjtWC3jCz
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 23, 2021
NASA now aims to gather as much flight data as possible in order to improve humanity’s off-world aerial capabilities, with the goal of completing at least two more flights in the coming weeks, during which the agency plans to push the aircraft as far and fast as they can.
Getting comfy with my cameras and bringing my subject into sharp focus. Of course, getting the shot is always easier when your subject nails their mark. Here are zoomed-in views of the #MarsHelicopter‘s takeoff and landing on flight #1. Getting set up for flight #2. pic.twitter.com/2lR0sU5hOO
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 22, 2021
According to Ingenuity team specialists, the aircraft’s fifth and final mission could see it travel as far as 300 meters (980 feet), though senior staff have expressed a desire to push that out to 600 meters (2,000 feet) if possible.
However, they are fully aware that this fifth flight is likely to be Ingenuity’s last hurrah, as it will most likely venture into dangerous, unsurveyed areas of the planet with the odds of a safe landing stacked heavily against the plucky probe.
“If we do have a bad landing, that will be the end of mission,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said. “The lifetime will be determined by how well it lands, pretty much.”
NASA missed out on the first two weeks of a 30-day window for safe flights through the Martian sky as a result of software issues and other associated delays.