NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter flew once more on Thursday (Feb. 16), covering more ground on the Red Planet than it has in a single sortie in nearly a year.
The flight was 43rd overall (opens in new tab) for the 4-pound (1.8 kg) Ingenuity, which landed on Mars’ Jezero crater floor with the Perseverance rover in February 2021.
This latest jump covered 1,280 feet (390 meters) of the Red Planet’s ground, according to Ingenuity’s flight log. (opens in new tab). Ingenuity has not flown this far since April 29, 2022, when it traveled 1,371 feet (418 m) on the Jezero floor.
Related: Mars rover Perseverance spots Ingenuity helicopter resting on sand dune (pictured)
Ingenuity completed Flight 43 – its longest flight in nearly a year! 🎉 The #MarsHelicopter traveled 1,280 feet (390 m) across the Martian surface for a maximum of 145.99 seconds. altitude of 40 feet (12 m). https://t.co/1CXIWdYIAQ pic.twitter.com/wxSVvSRcaNFebruary 16, 2023
That April 29 jump didn’t set a record, however; Ingenuity’s longest-ever flight occurred three weeks earlier, on April 8, when the little robot put 2,310 feet (710 m) on its odometer.
During its 43 Mars flights to date, Ingenuity has covered a total of 28,968 feet (8,829 m), according to the mission’s flight log – nearly 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers). That’s pretty impressive for a tech demo that was originally only supposed to fly the Red Planet five times.
Ingenuity has long since gone out of that original mission. The helicopter is now serving as a scout for Perseverance, which is looking for signs of past life on Mars and collecting and storing dozens of samples for a future return to Earth.
Jezero is a great place to do this work, mission team members said: The 45km-wide crater was home to a large lake and river delta billions of years ago.
Perseverance recently finished setting up a backup sample cache on a stretch of Jezero that the rover team calls Three Forks. The 10 tubes in the Three Forks depot will be collected by helicopters similar to Ingenuity later this decade, if Perseverance is not healthy enough to deliver its onboard samples to a rocket lander. That rocket will send the samples into Mars orbit, where a spacecraft will capture them and return them to Earth, perhaps as early as 2033 – a sample return campaign that NASA will carry out with the European Space Agency.
Perseverance now begins to climb the ancient formation of the Jezero Delta, to explore this different and intriguing environment. The rover has put 9.05 miles (14.57 km) on its odometer since landing, according to mission team members. (opens in new tab).
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).