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NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on Mars sets speed record in third flight

The Perseverance rover's sidekick is starting to show off.

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Eric Mack
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A black and white image taken from Ingenuity's downward-looking navigation camera during its third flight on April 25, 2021.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The first craft to fly on another world hit a jogging pace for the first time on Sunday, its fastest speed yet. In its third flight on Mars, NASA's tiny helicopter, dubbed Ingenuity, flew about the length of a football field and hit a top speed of around 4.5 miles per hour (2 meters per second), which is roughly the average pace at which humans jog.

In the above video, taken by the Perseverance rover's MastCam-Z camera, the cosmically cute chopper can be seen lifting off the Martian surface to a height of 16 feet (5 meters) and then flying to the right and out of frame for a while before returning into view and landing near the same spot.

While commercial drones and other similar craft obviously fly faster all the time, Ingenuity's record shows it holds up even when pushed to go beyond the speeds achieved during its testing on Earth.

"Today's flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing," said Dave Lavery, the NASA program executive for Ingenuity, in a statement. "With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions."

The flight took place at 1:31 a.m. PT Sunday (12:33 p.m. local Mars time) and saw Ingenuity fly a total of 328 feet (100 meters). The data from the flight actually began arriving back at mission control in California at 7:16 a.m. PT, including new images from Ingenuity's color camera and black-and-white navigation camera.

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An image taken from Ingenuity during its third flight. The helicopter's shadow is visible near the bottom.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA says that the data collected from Ingenuity's latest boundary-pushing flight will inform both the helicopter's upcoming flights and the design of bigger rotorcraft that may fly on Mars in the future.

The Ingenuity team says a fourth flight is planned for later this week.

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