When NASA's Ingenuity helicopter completed its third flight in April, its ground team met the last of the three objectives needed to call the technology demo project a success. That's why for its fourth test flight, the Ingenuity team wants to push the machine's performance envelope on Mars by flying farther over more rocks and craters and going faster than it ever had. It's going to happen sooner than later, as well: NASA has announced that the helicopter's fourth flight is scheduled to take off on April 29th at 10:12 AM Eastern time.
The Ingenuity team completed its first objective six years ago when it demonstrated that the helicopter can fly inside a JPL chamber. When Ingenuity flew for the first time on Mars back in April, the team met its second objective. It surpassed its third and last objective when the helicopter flew for 164 feet at a speed of about 4.5MPH and at an altitude of 16 feet during its third flight, so there's nothing else to do but try to beat those numbers.
Ingenuity chief engineer J. "Bob" Balaram said:
"When Ingenuity’s landing legs touched down after that third flight, we knew we had accumulated more than enough data to help engineers design future generations of Mars helicopters. Now we plan to extend our range, speed, and duration to gain further performance insight."
For the fourth flight, Balaram and his team want the helicopter to venture about 276 feet from its origin at an altitude of 16 feet. They're also upping the helicopter's airborne time from 80 seconds to 117 seconds and increasing its max airspeed from 4.5MPH to 8MPH. NASA JPL expects to get the first set of data from the flight at 1:21PM Eastern on the same day, so you don't have to wait that long to find out whether the fourth flight was a success.
While the team already has some ideas for the fifth flight, it's holding off on setting goals for it until it gets the results for the fourth one. After five flights, NASA is expected to wind down its Ingenuity efforts and shift its focus to the Perseverance rover's main mission: hunting for signs of ancient life on the red planet.
Flight No. 4 is targeted for April 29. 🗓️#MarsHelicopter has met or surpassed all its tech demo goals. Now, we'll push performance. We'll up the time airborne to 117 seconds, increase max airspeed to 3.5 m/sec (8 mph), & more than double the total range. https://t.co/4s7ujMZZmz pic.twitter.com/DxgB7e04Ni— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 29, 2021