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Mars Ingenuity helicopter breaks record for speed and altitude, NASA says

NASA's Mars helicopter prepares for flight
NASA's Mars helicopter carries a piece of Wright brothers' plane 00:46

After more than two years on the red planet, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has broken two new records, NASA said.

The helicopter on Sunday flew 14.5 miles per hour, beating its previous record of 13.4 miles per hour, and hit an altitude of 52.5 feet, outperforming its previous top height of 46 feet. The data from Ingenuity, which has flown 49 flights and been on Mars since February 2021, was shared online by NASA in a flight log. 

The moment Ingenuity became the first aircraft to fly on another planet. (Source: NASA)

Ingenuity was brought to Mars by NASA's Perseverance rover. In the past two years, the helicopter has performed a series of tests and is currently conducting an operations demonstration phase that NASA says "looks to explore how future rovers and aerial explorers can work together." 

Ingenuity has set records in the past: In April 2021, it became the first powered, controlled flight in Mars' extremely thin atmosphere, NASA said. In a video released Tuesday, Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos spoke from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and said that the records that Ingenuity had set were allowing developers to advance future helicopter design. 

"These sorts of wins are coming from the surface of Mars directly into the design of the new sample recovery helicopters, and she's done a fantastic job and surpassed any sort of metric of success that anyone on the team could have ever imagined for this little tiny four-pound spacecraft," he said. 

Ingenuity Helicopter Inspires Future Flights on Mars (Mars Report - April 2023) by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory on YouTube

Those sample recovery helicopters, Tzanetos said, are the next phase of technology and will work in tandem with Perseverance. The rover will collect sample tubes and the return lander will retrieve them. A rocket inside the lander will allow the machine to send samples back to earth. 

The goal, Tzanetos said, is innovation. 

"We're designing the next generation of helicopters to not only be able to pick up and carry a sample tube, but also drive around on the surface," he said. 

Another new development is that of a "hexacopter," or a six-motored helicopter about the size of a rover that would help get to previously inaccessible parts of Mars. 

"You can imagine in the future (that) you will have fleets of these Mars science helicopters flying around, bringing important payloads to parts of Mars that we've never been able to access before," Tzanetos said. 

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