Ingenuity Completes Fourth Flight On Mars, Gets A New Mission

It’s the same on Mars as it is here — just when you’re getting used to your job, the bosses go and change things up.

At least that’s our read on the situation at Jezero crater, where the Mars Ingenuity helicopter has just had its mission upgraded and extended. In a Friday morning press conference, the Ingenuity flight team, joined by members of the Perseverance team and some NASA brass, made the announcement that Ingenuity had earned an extra 30 sols of flight time, and would be transitioned from a mere “technology demonstrator” to an “operations demonstration” phase. They also announced Ingenuity’s fourth flight, which concluded successfully today, covering 266 meters and staying airborne for 117 seconds.

Fourth flight of Ingenuity (circled), captured by Perseverance rover. Source: NASA/JPL

There are two main drivers of the mission extension. The first is that Ingenuity has achieved all of the technical goals set out for it in terms of proving that a helicopter can fly in the Martian atmosphere and operate autonomously. In doing this, Ingenuity has gathered a large data set that will inform the design of future UAVs for planetary exploration. But that alone would not have been enough to justify the mission extension. Ingenuity was always an add-on, designed to take up as few resources as possible from the primary mission of Perseverance, which is to gather samples in the search for ancient life on Mars. The plan was for the rover to stay near Ingenuity to support flight operations for 30 sols, then head out to the more interesting areas of Jezero crater to explore and gather samples.

But as it turns out, the area around Ingenuity’s operational area, known as Wright Brothers Field, is far more interesting to planetary scientists than originally anticipated, as revealed by Perseverance’s instruments. This presents the opportunity for the rover to stay put for now, get some sampling and science down, and still support Ingenuity’s now-extended mission.

We find this an exciting development, and we’re looking forward to the data and images that come from the now-overlapping missions of Ingenuity and Perseverance. To learn more about these amazing spacecraft, check out our deep dives on the rover itself and its companion helicopter.

[Ed note: NASA missions getting extended is almost standard operating procedure. The Opportunity rover was designed for three months, but ran for 15 years! The Hubble space telescope is still doing science. Why? It’s complicated, but we’ve got something to say about it.]

50 thoughts on “Ingenuity Completes Fourth Flight On Mars, Gets A New Mission

      1. At least they had scope. The last startup i worked at only had creep fueled by slippery delusions. One can only dream of a decent bit of scope.

        But here, its a success which leads to further investigation and use of an excellent bit of engineering. Though it is amusing to personify it and view it as jaded and oppressed.

    1. It seems like cultural criticism is a mandatory requirement for U.S. citizenship, a valiant success and can be turned it into a disappointment. Imagine this: NASA’s and American science’s achievement is second to none. No nation is anywhere near us in Mars exploration. We are proud of our accomplishments and look forward to continuing to lead the world.

  1. “Build it and they will come”
    An expression that delivers exceptionally well!
    Ingenuity is a proven airborne system and now it has an expanded mission – Go for it!
    I am sure many eagerly await whatever insights Ingenuity delivers.

    1. Can Ingenuity be programmed to select different landing sites and therefore follow the rover unit? Could it even piggy back(if there’s space)!on the rover itself?

  2. What is the reason why the Ingenuity can’t just follow Perseverance during the mission? Rovers on Mars are moving pretty slow anyways and Perseverance could probably just find a suitable landing field every 100-200m or so. Ingenuity could then just fly to the next landing field when needed (and also do some more missions if the battery charge allows it). I know Ingenuity has been designed as a proof of concept to show powered flight on Mars is possible and it has certainly not been designed for that kind of mission. But on the other hand, at some point in time the rover has to move on and if the copter is still working at that time, they have nothing to lose and could just give it a try. Obviously there is a pretty high risk that Ingenuity will be lost at some time during a mission like that but this is still better than leaving behind a perfectly working copter. Are there any hard technical limitations making that kind of mission extension impossible?

    1. Because the benefits which are almost non-existent do not outweigh the costs. There are no scientific instruments on Ingenuity. There is not even a decent visible wavelength camera which could be used for some scientific observations. And all of THAT IS OK and by design:
      Ingenuity is NOT a science vehicle and cannot be used as one. Its only purpose is to find out where predictions and simulations differ from reality!

      1. Even if Ingenuity can’t do science missions there is still one mission it could do. That is testing how long such a platform can work on mars. I mean there are some components which need to stand up to some high forces. Letting the platform tag along Perseverance can (dis)prove its robustness.
        If there is no impact on Perseverance’s science mission, I see no reason not to.

    2. I suppose it could be used as a “pathfinder” to check out the route the rover will cover to check for obstacles, geological anomalies and sand people.

      1. I wondered the same, in theory Ingenuity can get a much better view of potential terrain to explore from the forward-facing camera at altitude, why not use it for reconnaissance?

    3. Probably limited by the inability to keep solar panels dust-free and able to recharge the batteries. In the meantime, “keep flying, little scout…”

    4. @Jakob said: “What is the reason why the Ingenuity can’t just follow Perseverance during the mission? Rovers on Mars are moving pretty slow anyways and Perseverance during the mission could probably just find a suitable landing field every 100-200m or so.”

      Exactly – plus… the main reason Ingenuity would follow Perseverance during the mission is to blow accumulated dust off the solar arrays on Perseverance.

  3. Very cool! The earlier HaD article mentioned the plan would never surpass a 90s flight (reached 117s) and fly more than 4 or 5 times before essentially being abandoned. Amazing to see this mission be SO successful it gets extended into operational testing.
    I always thought this mission could be one of the more amazing ones, turned out to be spectacular, and against all odds too. Somewhat disappointed though that it didn’t catch more airborne shots of its parent rover, I found only one very distant image of Perseverance from Ingenuity. Kind’ve necessary to give people a better understanding of scale on Mars, if u know how big Perseverance actually is. Plus it had to fly so far away.

    1. I really don’t think it was against all odds. The engineers know the atmospheric density and designed and tested accordingly. For me, the only unknown was wind. (assuming a safe landing) I honestly would have been shocked if it didn’t fly. Very capable people making this stuff.

  4. Hey webadmin :P
    Martian article image sizes !
    MartianHelicopter 98816 bytes (JPEG)
    MartianHelicopter 190802 bytes (WEBP)

    This is not Deep Space Network optimized data transfer :P

  5. What is the cost of operating it for some time now that all the engineering has been done and it has been delivered to Mars? Maybe you’d need 5-10 engineers/mission controllers with a total labor cost of 250k each to keep operating it, so that would be 1.25-2.5 million USD for running it for one year, which is just about 0.05-0.1% of the total cost of the Perseverance mission. This small amount could probably be justified by the publicity alone even if the scientific use is very limited. I don’t really expect the copter to last more than a year, so this part of the mission will be over at some time anyways.

    Operating the copter as long as it works (and doesn’t impact the main mission too much) could also gain operational experience and help improve the engineering of the next Mars helicopter (which will probably come with a decent scientific payload). The camera also isn’t that bad (check out the images published so far), so it could definitely provide images from the next 100m or so in front of the rover with a much better resolution/quality than what is available from satellites and this could help with navigational decisions (or even glean at potential scientific targets before deciding whether the rover should make a detour or not).

    1. “Operating the copter as long as it works (and doesn’t impact the main mission too much)”

      They’ve just said in a post-4th-flight Q&A that that’s exactly what they’re now planning to do. They may also try it out in the rover best-path scouting mission that later Mars ‘copters will most likely be used for.

    2. As a drone pilot, flight time kind of sucks. I get about 20 minutes, before getting home and on the ground, gets toward the urgent range. Could probably get close to 30 minutes, if I wanted to throw all caution to the wind, maybe travel a little to recover. Takes about an hour, 15 minutes to recharge. I also allow some cool-off time. Basically, that battery is two or more hours away from ready to use. I have spares, no biggie. I don’t know the specs on the Mars ‘copter, but it might only have a few minutes flight time, and need a while to recharge off a small solar panel. Battery capacity, and actual flight time, aren’t exactly the same. Flight time is pretty low, on windy days, compared to calm. Not sure how closely they plan to press their luck, keep it in the air. Guess they are past the point, where they crash it, and leave it where it lay. Maybe the next on, they’ll have a landing pad/dock, on the rover, so the copter can hitch a ride, while recharging.

      1. After a full day of charging, much of the energy is used to keep the copter warm, some energy is used for the electronics. Only 30% of the charge is used for flying and can provide enough for about 90 seconds of flight. Then it has to charge for another day.

      2. Apparently, the issue is not with the battery but rather with the heat generated by super fast blade rotation. The temperature goes up by about 1°C/sec of flight, so all the electronics inside are quite warm after 117 sec run.

        1. Freezing, freezing, freezing, tooo hot, overheating, freezing, freezing. You might be taking the earth atmosphere for granted.

          And then you add in the aerodynamics of the thin atmosphere and dust in the gears.

          Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids.

          (True story: on our first high-altitude balloon, we worried about the cameras getting too cold, b/c well, it’s cold in space. But the accompanying low heat conduction of the thinner air actually lead to one camera overheating, just from battery discharge and the heat on the CPU doing the JPEG encoding.)

  6. Why are the images/vids so poor? Couldn’t they have used off-the-shelf components from DJI? EVERY Mavic movie on YouTube is better than ANY of the vids coming from Ingenuity. I realize Perseverance bandwidth is limited but even IT’S vids and images are sub-par IMO. All the vids from Perseverance of Ingenuity look like nothing more than a series of distant grainy .jpgs taken with a standard lens. Millions and Billions of taxpayer dollars spent on this thing. I am very disappointed they didn’t spend a few extra bucks on cameras.

    1. Bandwidth is usually the problem. We really need to put a large satellite in orbit around Mars with a high power antenna to act as a strong relay. Communications between Mars and Earth is very slow due to signal noise and the existing relays are overhead for only a few minutes.

      Bandwidth between a rover, the existing relay satellites, and Earth is limited to about 30MB / day in optimal conditions and right now, it’s gonna be even worse since Mars is nearly on the opposite side of the Sun so closer to the lower limit of 10MB / day. This is also going to be competing for the bandwidth of everything else going down the pipe from Mars.

      This is an older link for the Curiosity Rover launched 10 years ago, I don’t expect much has changed since then:,be%20transmitted%20to%20an%20orbiter

  7. It would be interesting to know how far away is the Perseverance Rover from the Opportunity Rover and see if the down force of wind is enought to blow the dust off the solar panels and bring it back to life.

    1. I think mission goals and scope are typically understated to keep expectations in check. While these machines are extremely well-engineered and tested, they are also extremely complex and vulnerable. But, when bad things don’t happen, they will normally have the capability to easily surpass their stated mission baseline. Plus, it hard to predict things that have never been done before.

  8. I get advancement in science and all, but with so many problem happening NOW, on Earth, why are we focusing so much on exploring a place that cannot sustain our lives? If you just took the money spent on this one trip to Mars, and spent it on healthcare for the world, or eliminating starvation, wouldn’t we ALL be better served? The military industrial complex already has enough profits.

    1. Why are we spending resources on space exploration, when we have more basic things at home to worry about? This is a common question, and here’s the answer:

      People like to do all kinds of stuff. We refuse to spend every waking minute and every dollar solving the serious problems of the world. Sometimes we want to explore different places, even if that doesn’t seem to offer any tangible value to the world.

      We go on vacation, watch TV, play badminton in the back yard, and send helicopters to Mars. It is what it is.

  9. Makes sense to keep flying it until it fails. There is definitely an advantage to “test to failure”. Does the copter need to stay with visual range of the rover for communications needs? If not, just go as far as you can in another direction just to see what is there. Or go find Opportunity.

    1. The rover doesn’t have solar panels at all… it’s nuclear.

      The only solar panels on this missing as far as I know are the ones on the helicopter. And it may very well use them in a short burst to remove some dust.

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