The Mars Helicopter from NASA Completes Its First Flight Using New Navigational Software

The Mars Helicopter from NASA Completes Its First Flight Using New Navigational Software

Flight 34 by Ingenuity Mars Helicopter might not be particularly noteworthy in comparison to some of the other flights this year. The Mars helicopter only rose to a height of just more than 16 feet (5 meters) during Wednesday’s successful 18-second flight, hovered, and then touched down. This was even shorter than Ingenuity’s initial flight. The team is incredibly enthusiastic about the flight despite how straightforward it was because of what it represents for the future of Ingenuity.

The operations crew has been working diligently over the past two weeks to implement a significant software update within the chopper. With this version, Ingenuity gains two crucial new abilities: the ability to navigate using digital elevation maps and to avoid hazards when landing.

Ingenuity was created as a technology demonstration and was built to function on Mars in similar flat, smooth terrain like Wright Brothers Field. We traversed more difficult terrain than the crew had ever envisioned as Ingenuity continued to explore Jezero Crater alongside the Perseverance rover.

During earlier flights, Ingenuity’s pilots had to locate airfields free of any rocks or other obstructions that might harm the vehicle as it landed. Because Jezero Crater is a rocky area, it has been challenging to locate secure airfields. This software upgrade includes hazard avoidance on landing and makes use of Ingenuity’s downward-facing navigation camera. Ingenuity will locate the most secure visible landing location while in flight. Ingenuity will then change its course to go to this chosen location as it prepares to land. Since Ingenuity can now safely land in more rugged terrain than previously, our pilots have access to a much wider range of prospective landing spots.

Flight 34 was Ingenuity’s maiden flight with this software update, despite the fact that it might not seem like much. Results from this straightforward flight will be used by the crew to begin testing these new capabilities, ensuring that everything performs as planned on Mars’ surface. With the addition of new capability, Ingenuity becomes a far more potent vehicle and useful scout for Perseverance. All of us are eager to see where this update will enable us to continue the journey of Ingenuity.

Written by Joshua Anderson, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Operations Lead.