NASA’s Ingenuity now really means business. Its fifth scheduled flight was due to be its last, a one-way trip to a final resting place. But the little helicopter has worked so well that NASA has promoted Ingenuity to the operational partner of Perseverance, and will assist the rover for as long as it can.
During flight four, Ingenuity collected lots of images and was able to map the area if flew over. This allowed the team to pick a new airfield for the rotocraft. On flight five, Ingenuity flew 129 meters (423 feet) south from the Wright Brothers Airfield, its base of operation for the last month. It took 108 seconds to get to the new location and before landing, it flew to an altitude of 10 meters (33 feet) to capture more images of the area. This is a new altitude record for the vehicle, and a game-changer and in how we can view inaccessible parts of the Red Planet from the sky.
“We bid adieu to our first Martian home, Wright Brothers Field, with grateful thanks for the support it provided to the historic first flights of a planetary rotorcraft,” Bob Balaram, chief engineer for Ingenuity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “No matter where we go from here, we will always carry with us a reminder of how much those two bicycle builders from Dayton meant to us during our pursuit of the first flight on another world.”
The focus for the Perseverance mission team for the last month of operation has been on Ingenuity. It showed that we can fly a vehicle on another world in the Solar System. Perseverance even captured the sound of Ingenuity flying on Mars. Now Perseverance's science mission is back to being the priority. Ingenuity is there to assist with the scouting of interesting locations, observations of regions not accessible to the rover, and aerial imaging.
It is unclear how long Ingenuity will survive. It was not designed to last longer than its 30-day test flight mission so any flight, image, and observation it carries out from now on is a bonus.