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NASA Mars helicopter prepares for sixth flight, a serious scouting mission

Ingenuity heads into a new phase of operations that will let it test its skills on the red planet.

ingenuityonmars
NASA's experimental Ingenuity helicopter hopes to take flight on Mars.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

NASA's revolutionary Mars helicopter Ingenuity is about to take a new leap in its personal growth. The experimental rotorcraft has successfully completed five flights under the watchful eye of the Perseverance rover. The sixth flight, which is targeted for within the next week, will let it loose without its wheeled friend playing paparazzi.

"The flight is the first to be executed during the helicopter's operations demonstration phase and includes scouting multiple surface features from the air and landing at a different airfield," NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Ingenuity has proven it can fly in the challenging conditions of Mars. It has flown fast, far and long, and now its team wants to explore its potential as a Martian scout. 

The flight plan involves sending the chopper up to 33 feet (10 meters) high. It will then mosey southwest for 492 feet (150 meters) and start snapping color images of the landscape. "Stereo imagery of the sand ripples and outcrops of bright rocks at the site will help demonstrate the value of an aerial perspective for future missions," NASA said.

Ingenuity will end up touching down in a new spot, one that's been scoped out by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The rotorcraft will spend about 140 seconds in the air and reach a top speed of 9 mph (4 meters per second).

Perseverance is busy getting ready for its own science operations, so it won't be snapping images of Ingenuity's exploits this time around. But you can always watch the stunning video (with sound!) of the helicopter's fourth flight

The little rotorcraft is still making history as it advances what can be achieved in the air on another planet.

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