NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Achieves Historic Back-to-Back Flights in Preparation for ‘Solar Conjunction’ (Watch Video)

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter recently completed its 65th and 66th flights on Mars, two short hops designed to prepare the chopper for an upcoming period of disconnection from ground control.

On November 2, Flight 65 lasted for 48 seconds, carrying Ingenuity across 23 feet of Martian ground. The rotorcraft took another brief 23-second flight on the following day, covering just 2 feet horizontally. These short flights aimed to position the #MarsHelicopter for the upcoming Mars solar conjunction, a period during which sending commands to the spacecraft will be paused for about 2 weeks.

Officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where Ingenuity’s mission is managed, reported that these flights went off without any issues. Given the positioning of Earth and Mars, which are on opposite sides of the sun during solar conjunction, radio signals between the planets are blocked. This leads to a temporary stand down in sending instructions to the spacecraft.

The solar conjunction, which lasts about two weeks, will occur from November 11 to November 25. With the sun interfering with communication signals between the planets, engineers send two weeks’ worth of instructions and wait. NASA stressed the importance of this downtime, highlighting the risks associated with potential signal interference from charged particles emitted by the sun.

Ingenuity successfully landed inside Mars’ Jezero Crater alongside NASA’s Perseverance rover in February 2021. The 4-pound craft was tasked with proving that powered flight is viable on Mars, despite its wispy atmosphere, which is just 1% the density of Earth’s at sea level. Over the course of its 66 flights to date, Ingenuity has flown a total of 9 miles and stayed aloft for nearly 119 minutes, as per the mission flight log.

Together, Ingenuity and Perseverance are actively engaged in exploring and researching the Red Planet, pushing the boundaries of human scientific discovery.


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