NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has now logged 34 successful flights, with one of the most recent remaining airborne for 18 seconds and reaching a maximum altitude of 16ft. The brief flight was the 1.8kg helicopter’s first with its latest software update, which is expected to enhance Ingenuity’s capabilities, including hazard avoidance during landing and the use of digital elevation maps to assist with navigation. Further flights to test these upgraded capabilities are planned.

Ingenuity was launched with the Perseverance rover in July 2020, its mission as a technology demonstrator being to test the viability of powered, controlled flight on Mars. The helicopter’s mission was officially extended last March to include supporting the rover as it explores the Jezero Crater.

According to NASA, as Ingenuity was originally designed to fly over flat terrain, the software update is necessary as it will be flying in rockier areas with fewer safe landing sites. Since its first flight on April 19, 2021, Ingenuity has logged almost 59 minutes of flight time and travelled a total distance of 4.6 miles. Its longest flight to date lasted 169.5 seconds and the highest reached 40ft above the surface.

As previously reported by Pilot, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team won the 2021 Collier trophy for accomplishing ‘the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet, thereby opening the skies of Mars and other worlds for future scientific discovery and exploration.’