NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has taken to the skies again after a month-long break in communications with Earth.
The drone-like flying machine flew 393 meters and remained in the air for more than two minutes. Showing no signs of distress after long periods on the ground, the helicopter also reached a height of 39 feet (11.9 m) and a top speed of 11.9 mph (5.4 m/s).
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates Ingenuity, revealed the news of the plane’s 67th flight in a post on social media:
The suspension of flights was caused by a communication interruption between the Ingenuity team and the helicopter, which was caused by the Sun passing between Earth and Mars.
So-called “solar conjunctions” happen every two years, and so this is the second time it’s affected NASA’s latest Mars mission, which also includes the Perseverance rover. NASA’s other Mars probes – the Curiosity rover and three Mars orbiters – have been operating on and near the planet for a very long time and so have experienced many solar conjunctions.
Ingenuity has far exceeded initial expectations since becoming the first aircraft to perform a powered, controlled flight on a planet other than Earth in April 2021.
In fact, it has impressed NASA so much that it wants to design more advanced aircraft for future missions to Mars and other planets.
Ingenuity arrived at Mars as a technology demonstration, but after proving itself, the JPL team deployed it to collect aerial photographs of the Martian surface using the aircraft’s on-board cameras. This imagery has been used to help map safe and efficient routes for the ground-based Perseverance rover, which was not available to earlier Mars missions such as Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity.
As Perseverance continues to explore the Martian surface for evidence of ancient microbial life, scientists aim to send some of the rover’s rock and soil collection to Earth for closer analysis.