Earlier this morning Ingenuity took off for the fourth and most daring flight of its campaign. It took several hours for flight data to be received by the JPL team but all signs look that it was a successful flight.

Ingenuity, the small Martian helicopter that first took flight two weeks ago has been having nothing but success on the Martian soil. This flight flew higher, faster, and further than all the other flights have so far and it landed back safely on the surface.

While only flight data has been downlinked so far, Ingenuity did get a chance to take photos during its flight. These images will be coming down in a later downlink in order to prioritize the most important information to determine mission success. While we will wait for those images, we can see a glimpse of the flight through the eyes of Perseverance with an image from its Hazcam.

Mission extension with new demonstration phase

Ingenuity was always designed and planned as a tech demo, a low-priority mission that would gain some data on flying on another planet. NASA announced today that they will extend the mission of Ingenuity and see how having an aerial vehicle could benefit future missions to Mars.

The new mission phase will begin after it takes its fifth flight would is likely to happen in about a week. The extension comes as the Perseverance checkouts that have been taking place since it first landed on Mars back in February have been ahead of schedule. Perseverance is the primary mission of Mars 2020 so when it’s ready to start doing science, it can’t sit around photographing Ingenuity fly around.

“The Ingenuity technology demonstration has been a resounding success. Since Ingenuity remains in excellent health, we plan to use it to benefit future aerial platforms while prioritizing and moving forward with the Perseverance rover team’s near-term science goals.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The Perseverance team has determined a suitable location nearby to be its first detailed exploration. The rover has already started its drive south towards the area and it will not be able to focus all of its time taking the beautiful photos and videos that we’ve all loved of Ingenuity’s flights.

This new extension of Ingenuity’s life will be one of uncertainty, with most of the helicopter’s hardware not being rated for this many flights or landing at locations that have not been well scouted before. What will happen to Ingenuity during these flights is unknown, but it will live a very exciting life before its mission is complete.

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