Ingenuity is seen on August 2, 2023, in an enhanced-color image captured by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard the Perseverance Mars rover. Credits: JPL/Caltech-ASU/MSSS.

The Revolutionary Ingenuity Helicopter Grounded Forever on the Mars Surface

The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, damaged one rotor blade during its seventy-second flight landing, preventing it from flying again on the Red Planet

NASA declared the end of the mission for Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter, after a carbon-fiber rotor blade hit the ground and remained damaged while landing on January 18, 2024.

During the seventy-second and last flight, the team at JPL planned to make a short vertical move up to 12 meters after making an emergency landing on the previous flight. However, the bland terrain that previously deceived its navigation system didn’t allow the helicopter to land with the correct orientation, and at least one blade struck the red ground and got irreparably broken.

Due to this damage, Ingenuity lost its capability to fly, and NASA officially declared the end of its mission on the Red Planet. The team will complete their final system tests and retrieve the remaining imagery and data from the helicopter onboard memory.


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The perfect scout for a rock-hunting rover

Initially planned to fly five times, Ingenuity fulfilled its primary mission without blocking issues, transitioning to the secondary mission of acting as an aerial scout to support the sample-collecting mission of the Perseverance Rover.

Ingenuity’s view of sand dunes during flight 70. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Ingenuity’s view of sand dunes during flight 70. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In the following flights, the helicopter took several pictures, used by the Perseverance team to select more sampling spots, especially in the Three Forks area on the floor of Jezero Crater.

“Ingenuity has been tremendously helpful, taking images of the surface in that very region. We’ve got real data describing what you’re going to find at Three Forks.”

— Håvard Fjær Grip, chief engineer of autonomy and aerial flight at NASA JPL

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Ingenuity’s legacy for future aerial missions

The record book of Ingenuity is impressive:

  • 72 flights in 978 sol (from first to last flight);
  • a total flight time of 128,8 minutes;
  • 17 kilometres of total distance flown;
  • max ground speed of 10 meters per second;
  • highest altitude of 24 meters.

Its aerial support to Perseverance’s sample-collecting quest demonstrates that flight can complement and enhance ground exploration missions.

Built with many off-the-shelf components, Ingenuity outperformed all the mission objectives, surviving dust storms and a frigid Martian winter.

All these facts and all the data collected from Ingenuity will support the future generations of extra-terrestrial aircraft, like the Dragonfly rotorcraft and the two helicopters for the Mars Sample Return mission (for more details, see the insight Ingenuity: pioneering flight on Mars).

An illustration of three different models of NASA’s solar-powered Mars helicopter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
An illustration of three different models of NASA’s solar-powered Mars helicopter. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best – make the impossible possible. Through missions like Ingenuity, NASA is paving the way for future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond.”

— Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator

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Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Space Ambassador, Terranaut, Future Spacepolitan, Writer of Becoming Spacepolitans Blog

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