Mars Ingenuity helicopter mission extended by Nasa

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The US space agency has announced it is extending its Mars helicopter mission.

Nasa said the first three flights of the drone, called Ingenuity, had worked so well it would now be moving from a demonstration to an operational phase.

This means the chopper will support Nasa’s Perseverance Rover, helping with its hunt for signs of life.

The new phase will last for another 30 Martian days – or Sols – but the team said it was hopeful the operational role could be extended further.

“The technical performance has been fantastic and it is exceeding all our expectations,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are about this new phase.”

Ingenuity’s flight on 19 April made history as the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The 1.8kg chopper lifted off in the extremely thin Martian atmosphere and hovered at a height of 2m for about 40 seconds before landing.

For its second and third flights, it flew further afield, rising to a height of 5m before speeding off laterally for 2m and 50m before returning to its landing spot.

Nasa’s original plan was to then carry out two more flights, before grounding Ingenuity to bring the technology demonstration to a close.

But Friday’s announcement is a change of course. The US space agency said it was so pleased with the helicopter’s performance, it wanted to explore Ingenuity’s capabilities in a new way.

Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, said: “It’s been riding the winds, it’s been taking off great, all the engineering systems, the solar panel, the battery, the radio have all been working very well – everything has just been fantastic.”

Now, Ingenuity will be helping out with the rover’s science programme.

It will work with the Perseverance robot as it starts to investigate Jezero Crater, a region of Mars that was once a lake.

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