NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has just flown faster than ever over the surface of Mars.
The drone-like flying machine reached a speed of 10 meters per second (22.4 mph) during its 62nd flight on the planet, breaking its previous speed record of 8 m/s (17.9 mph) set two flights previously at the end of last month.
It’s yet another achievement for NASA’s team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which is overseeing the current Mars mission also involving the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity first took to the martian skies in April 2021, becoming the first aircraft to perform powered, controlled flight on another planet. That first flight was a mere hover, however, and since then the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter has taken a single flight over a record distance of 2,325 feet (708.9 meters), proving beyond doubt that it can comfortably handle an atmosphere considerably thinner than Earth’s.
Ingenuity’s total flight time across its 62 flights stands at 113 minutes, achieved over flights covering a total of 9 miles. The highest altitude it’s reached during those flights is 24 meters, enabling it to capture aerial images that have been useful for the Perseverance team as they set about looking for the safest and most efficient routes for the ground-based rover.
The primary aim of the current Mars mission is to search for evidence of ancient life. Assisted by Ingenuity, Perseverance has been using its suite of science tools to gather and store samples of rock and soil that will be collected by a later mission and brought to Earth for more detailed analysis.
It’s also gathering data about conditions on the planet to help NASA better prepare for its first human mission to Mars, which could take place in the 2030s.
The success of Ingenuity’s design means NASA engineers will work on creating more advanced versions of the diminutive helicopter for future missions to Mars and possibly other planets, too.