NASA’s small helicopter Ingenuity made a third flight to Mars on Sunday, moving farther and faster than on its previous two sorties, peaking at 7 km / h, the US space agency said.
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After a first hovering flight, then a second almost stationary as well, the machine this time traveled 50 meters, reaching a speed of 2 meters per second, or 7 km / h.
“Today’s flight was what we had planned, but it was no less incredible,” said Dave Lavery, program manager, from NASA headquarters in Washington in a statement. .
The Perseverance rover, on board which the small 1.8 kg helicopter arrived, filmed this third 80-second flight. NASA announced on Sunday that clips of this video will be sent to Earth in the coming days.
This lateral displacement flight was a test for the helicopter’s autonomous navigation system, which performs this route based on information previously received. “If Ingenuity flies too fast, the flight algorithm cannot identify the terrain,” NASA explained.
The very low density of Martian air (1% of that of the Earth’s atmosphere) forced NASA teams to design an ultralight helicopter whose blades turn much faster than those of a standard machine, to get it off the ground.
The space agency is now announcing the preparation of a fourth flight. The flights are expected to be of increasing difficulty and push Ingenuity to its limits.
Whatever happens, after a maximum of a month, the Ingenuity experiment will stop, to let the Perseverance rover devote itself to its main task: to search for traces of ancient life on Mars.