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Nasa's Ingenuity helicopter hits new speed record in its third flight to Mars

The twin-rotor whirligig’s debut on the red planet marked a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment for Nasa last week, after it performed a successful takeoff and landing on Mars. However, achievements galore awaited Nasa, as the copter continued to hit one milestone after another.
This NASA photo released on April 22, 2021, shows the downward-looking navigation camera aboard NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter in this image of the rotorcraft's shadow on the surface of Jezero Crater during the helicopter's second experimental test flight (AFP photo / Nasa / JPL-Caltech)
Published on Apr 26, 2021 06:52 PM IST
By | Written by Joydeep Bose

Nasa's miniature helicopter Ingenuity, in its third flight to Mars, has managed to set a new speed record, said the American space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday. The tiny robot copter, which became the first aircraft to achieve a powered, controlled flight over the surface of another planet, "traveled almost half the length of a football field and increased its airspeed to 4.5 mph (2m/sec)", Nasa’s JPL said, noting that the aircraft had not hit such speeds till now, even while testing on Earth.

The twin-rotor whirligig Ingenuity’s debut on the Red Planet marked a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) last week after it performed a successful takeoff and landing on Mars. More achievements awaited Nasa as the copter continued to hit one milestone after another. On Saturday, during its second flight test, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured the first coloured image of the Martian surface. Ingenuity was 16 feet (5-metre) above the surface while capturing the image, according to Nasa. It showed a closeup of a portion of the tracks of the Perseverance Mars rover and Mars surface features.


Now, the copter has hit a record speed of 4.5mph, its planned milestone for the third flight test. Nasa has said that Ingenuity's success could pave the way for new modes of exploration on Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus and Saturn’s moon Titan. “We can now say that human beings have flown an aircraft on another planet,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, said last week.

Ingenuity was developed as a technology demonstration, separate from Perseverance’s primary mission to search for traces of ancient microorganisms and collect samples of Martian rock for eventual return to Earth for further analysis. While Mars possesses much less gravity to overcome than Earth, its atmosphere is just 1% as dense, making it especially difficult to generate aerodynamic lift. To compensate, engineers equipped Ingenuity with rotor blades that are larger (four feet long) and spin far more rapidly than would be needed on Earth for a similar aircraft of its size. The design was successfully tested in vacuum chambers built at JPL to simulate Martian conditions, but it remained to be seen whether Ingenuity would actually fly on the fourth planet from the sun, until today.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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