Science

NASA's Mars helicopter set for tricky takeoff with first flight of 2022

Ingenuity is sitting on a mass of featureless sand, which could make takeoff more challenging than usual.

The Ingenuity helicopter will land in a familiar-looking spot. It captured a view of its future landing zone during Flight 9.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

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

It's a new year on Earth, and there's also plenty to look forward to on Mars in 2022. NASA's Ingenuity helicopter is getting ready to take its first flight of the year, and its 19th flight overall. The Ingenuity team anticipates takeoff could be tough due to the terrain it's sitting on.

Flight 19 is scheduled to take place no earlier than Friday. The remarkable rotorcraft has long outlived its expected five-flight lifespan and continues to function well in the harsh conditions of the Jezero Crater.

Each flight on Mars is a minor miracle. The chopper's first flight proved it could work. The following flights tested its capabilities. The latest flights have been in service of its companion Perseverance rover. "The current mission goal is to reach the Jezero river delta to aid the Perseverance rover in path planning and scientific discovery," Ingenuity pilot Martin Cacan wrote in a status update on Tuesday.    

Flight 19, which is scheduled to last for about 100 seconds, won't necessarily be easy. "While short, the flight has a challenging start due to featureless sandy terrain that the helicopter currently sits on," Cacan wrote. Ingenuity uses a navigation camera to help it track its location. The terrain triggered some warnings during the landing process for Flight 18, but the team hopes updates to Ingenuity's parameters will allow for a clean ascent.  

Ingenuity and Perseverance have proven to be quite the buddy team since landing on Mars in early 2021. The new year will be filled with exploration and scientific studies as the rover continues to roll and collect rock samples and the helicopter plays scout from the air.

To get an idea of what Ingenuity looks like when it's soaring over Mars, check out this fun NASA video of its Flight 13.