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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image on May 22, 2021, using its black and white navigation camera. This camera is mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed directly downward to track the ground during flight. NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA is aiming for tomorrow, Sunday, June 6, for the Mars helicopter Ingenuity to take its seventh flight. The tiny helicopter has succeeded in demonstrating that it is possible to fly an aircraft on another planet, and has been performing a series of increasingly complex flights to test its capabilities. Now, it will be moving to a new location which will act as its latest base of operations.
Ingenuity’s last flight, which took place several weeks ago on May 22, was a troubled one. The helicopter took off and began to move as expected, but around a minute into the flight, a number of anomalies occurred. The helicopter changed its speed, tilted back and forward, and showed spikes in its power consumption. Fortunately, it was still able to land safely and did not suffer any damage. In a report on the incident, NASA said that there was a glitch in the helicopter’s motion system which keeps it stable in the air by using its cameras to image the ground below. One single camera frame had been lost, and that had caused subsequent frames to have the wrong timestamp which led to the issues.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which runs the Ingenuity helicopter, did not say whether the underlying issue had been fixed yet. Presumably, the team is confident that the helicopter can fly safely on its next flight.
The seventh flight will see the helicopter relocate to a new home base — the second time it has moved bases since it began its operations on Mars. NASA writes, “The flight profile will send Ingenuity to a location about 350 feet (106 meters) south of its current location, where it will touch down at its new base of operations. This will mark the second time the helicopter will land at an airfield that it did not survey from the air during a previous flight. Instead, the Ingenuity team is relying on imagery collected by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that suggests this new base of operations is relatively flat and has few surface obstructions.”