NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Concludes Its Three-Year Mars Mission

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, which was designed to fly only five times, has concluded its three-year Mars mission after its 72nd flight.

(Mars, Outer Space) The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Ingenuity helicopter - the first-ever helicopter designed to fly on another planet - has ended its three-year Mars mission after sustaining irreparable rotor damage on its 72nd flight over the Red Planet; Ingenuity was designed to fly only five times.

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The first flight of Ingenuity, depicted here by the Perseverance rover on April 7, 2021, was delayed because of a problem during a final pre-flight test. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech via SpaceNews.

While power still flows through the four-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter, recent images revealed that at least one of its rotor blades sustained irreparable damage after its last flight — Ingenuity's 72nd flight over the Red Planet — rendering it unable to fly again, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced in a statement today (Jan. 25th).

“The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to end,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best – make the impossible, possible. Through missions like Ingenuity, NASA is paving the way for future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond.”

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the project for the agency. It is supported by NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Ingenuity initially traveled to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 30, 2020. On August 7, 2020, the helicopter's six lithium-ion batteries were powered up and charged for the first time in space; Ingenuity received its charge from the rover's power supply, according to NASA.

The car-sized Perseverance rover first landed inside the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, tasked with searching for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting dozens of samples for future return to Earth, according to Space.com.

Per NASA, Ingenuity first lifted off the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, proving that powered, controlled flight on Mars was possible.

“After notching another four flights, [Ingenuity] embarked on a new mission as an operations demonstration, serving as an aerial scout for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers,” reads today’s press release from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "In 2023, the helicopter executed two successful flight tests that further expanded the team’s knowledge of its aerodynamic limits."

Ingenuity’s key triumphs and challenges are detailed in NASA’s press release and copied below, and NASA’s Ingenuity Legacy video can be accessed at this link.

“Triumphs, Challenges

Over an extended mission that lasted for almost 1,000 Martian days, more than 33 times longer than originally planned, Ingenuity was upgraded with the ability to autonomously choose landing sites in treacherous terrain, dealt with a dead sensor, cleaned itself after dust storms, operated from 48 different airfields, performed three emergency landings, and survived a frigid Martian winter.

Designed to operate in spring, Ingenuity was unable to power its heaters throughout the night during the coldest parts of winter, resulting in the flight computer periodically freezing and resetting. These power “brownouts” required the team to redesign Ingenuity’s winter operations in order to keep flying.

With flight operations now concluded, the Ingenuity team will perform final tests on helicopter systems and download the remaining imagery and data in Ingenuity’s onboard memory. The Perseverance rover is currently too far away to attempt to image the helicopter at its final airfield.”

Newsfeed: Thursday, May 30, 2024