Mars helicopter gets extra month of flying | Ralph Lauren

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NASA’s little Mars helicopter has had a reprieve.

Instead of wrapping up flight tests at the beginning of May, NASA is giving its Ingenuity helicopter at least an extra month to tackle tough new terrain and serve as a scout for its companion rover, Perseverance.

Officials announced the flight extension on Friday following three short flights in under two weeks for the $US85 million ($A110 million) tech demo.

Soon afterward, there was more good news: Ingenuity – the first powered aircraft to soar at another planet – had aced its fourth flight on Mars.

For Friday’s trip, Ingenuity travelled 266 metres at a height of 5m for two minutes – considerably further and longer than before. An attempt on Thursday had failed because of a known software error.

On its fifth flight in another week or so, the 1.8-kilogram craft will move to a new airfield, allowing the rover to finally start focusing on its own rock-sampling mission.

The rover is seeking signs of ancient life at Jezero Crater, home to a lush lake bed and river delta billions of years ago.

The helicopter team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, expects to chalk up a sixth and seventh flight in May.

The previous limit had been five. If all goes well, the helicopter mission could go even longer.

Now Perseverance will take priority, scoping out the rocks around the February 18 landing site.

Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on the rover’s belly, launching from Cape Canaveral last summer.

Managers expect the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to earth in a decade.

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