February 29, 2024

Nasa’s small Mars helicopter flew its last flight.

The space agency announced on Thursday that the 4lb (1.8kg) helicopter called Ingenuity could no longer fly due to rotor blade damage. While it remains upright and in contact with flight controllers, its $85m (£67m) mission is officially over, officials said.

Originally intended as a short-term technology demo, Ingenuity logged 72 flights over three years on Mars. It accumulated more than two hours of flight time and traveled 11 miles (18 km).

This is more than 14 times further than planned, according to Nasa. It rose as high as 79 feet (24 meters) and hit speeds of up to 22.4mph (36km/h).

“While we knew this day was inevitable, it doesn’t make it any easier” to announce the end of the mission, NASA’s Lori Glaze said. “To say that it exceeded expectations is almost an understatement.”

Ingenuity embarked on a journey on Nasa’s Perseverance rover and landed on Mars in 2021. It eventually served as a scout for the rover and proved that powered flight was possible in the thin Martian atmosphere.

Images beamed back from its last flight this week showed that one or more of its rotor blades sustained damage during landing and may have hit the surface. The blades are no longer usable, according to the space agency.

The helicopter climbed to 40 feet on its last flight last week and hovered for a few seconds before descending. It mysteriously lost contact with the nearby rover – its communications relay – while it was still 3 feet off the ground. Once communications were restored, the damage was confirmed. The reason for the loss of communication is being investigated.

Ingenuity’s success prompted Nasa to add two mini-helicopters to a future Mars mission in 2022.

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