The history-making Ingenuity helicopter on Mars is scheduled to make its fourth flight Thursday, with mission managers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena vowing to push the rotorcraft’s “performance envelope.”
The flight from Wright Brothers Field — the name given to the helicopter’s base on Mars — is scheduled to occur at 7:12 a.m. California time Thursday. Data from the flight won’t be received back at JPL until roughly three hours later, at 10:21 a.m.
According to NASA and JPL, Ingenuity has met or surpassed all of its objectives thus far, so mission managers will attempt a longer, faster flight.
“From millions of miles away, Ingenuity checked all the technical boxes we had at NASA about the possibility of powered, controlled flight at the Red Planet,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
“Future Mars exploration missions can now confidently consider the added capability an aerial exploration may bring to a science mission.”
The fourth flight will see Ingenuity climb to a height of 16 feet, then fly south — “flying over rocks, sand ripples, and small impact craters” — for 276 feet. The helicopter’s downward-facing camera will then begin snapping photos every four feet, until it reaches a distances of 436 feet from its starting point. Ingenuity will then stop, hover and return to Wright Brothers Field.
“To achieve the distance necessary for this scouting flight, we’re going to break our own Mars records set during flight three,” said Johnny Lam, Ingenuity’s backup pilot at JPL. “We’re upping the time airborne from 80 seconds to 117, increasing our max airspeed from 2 meters per second to 3.5, and more than doubling our total range.”
After compiling and analyzing data from the flight, planning will begin on a fifth flight.