back to article Mars Helicopter completes 50th flight, 45 more than NASA planned

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was designed to fly just five times, but last week the little rotorcraft that could clocked up its 50th flight in the red planet’s thin atmosphere. Flight 50 departed Airfield Lambda on April 13th and required 145.7 seconds to reach Airfield Mu, a 322-meter flight at a brisk 4.6 meters per …

  1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Total flight time – 5,349.9 seconds, or just over 89 minutes

    Curiously, when I was learning to fly a paraglider, my first fifty flights - mostly short hops - took ninety minutes!

    And it gets to do it on Mars. Not jealous, not jealous at all!

    One of these for the designers --->

  2. jake Silver badge


    NASA's over-achieving again, and we all benefit from it.

    I wish I could say I was surprised ... but I'm not.

    Beers all around; doubles for the fine folks at MarsLab.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Cool.

      Meanwhile at the NASA engineering meeting:

      Senior Mission Coordinator: "So, how many hops do you think the heli can realistically make?"

      Copter design team: "Oh, 50 or so?"

      Communications Director: "Right, divide that by 10. Put the word out that we're only expecting to do 5 hops or so."


      Funding for next mission assured. Beer o'clock, team.

      1. kat_bg

        Re: Cool.

        While that is funny and could happen (see other NASA projects that were massively overbudget), in the case of the tools they put on Mars, they did better than anybody expected.

      2. Annihilator

        Re: Cool.

        I've commented this before in the past, but more likely:

        "How do we design it to ensure it will *definitely* last 5 flights?"

        "By designing it to probably last 50 flights."

        Same for every mission or product that has to definitively last a set amount of time.

        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          Re: Cool.

          Fully agree ;) and I'm not belittling the achievement; this is peak science. Just have to love the marketing though.

          1. Annihilator

            Re: Cool.

            True. The space agencies are damned both ways though - build it the way they have, they get accused of overengineering it. Build it to a lower MTBF and the number of failures goes up and they get slaughtered for the failures. :-|

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Cool.

          I would assume that when you design something to withstand the tremendous forces and stresses it has to experience before it leaves our own planet, there is a high likelihood that it will be robust enough to do its original mission on arrival and then some.

          They truly do some awesome things.

          1. druck Silver badge

            Re: Cool.

            Being able to withstand the physical forces of take-off is one thing, operating in the extremes of temperature and the radiation environment on Mars is another.

      3. _Elvi_

        Re: Cool.

        De-Rating: Research it, understand it, live it, love it ...

        thank you ..

      4. Orv Silver badge

        Re: Cool.

        To be fair, no one had flown anything on another planet before. There were so many ways this could have gone wrong at any stage. Failure still would have taught them something, but I can't blame them for keeping expectations low.

  3. Mayday Silver badge

    Built properly

    Well done on that one.

    Guessing we'll run out of usage when the battery capacity becomes too low on the thing (post number of charge cycles).

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Built properly

      For "consumer" parts, considering the conditions it's in, it's doing amazingly well.

      I wonder what we will be sing from Mars in 5-10 years if Starships launch today (livestream starts in a about 7 minutes) goes to plan?

      (Not seeing the El Reg story on Starship yet. Are they waiting to see whether to report success or kaboom before pushing the publish button?)

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Re: Built properly

        So long as it's not an Earth Shattering Kaboom...

        (where's the Looney Tunes Icon?)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Built properly

          Scrubbed :-(

          C:/> Read Failure. Abort, Retry, Ignore?

          Stuck valve in stage 1. At least 48hrs before next attempt.

  4. Winkypop Silver badge

    Fly me to the Moon….

    And let me play among the Mars…..

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Fly me to the Moon….

      @winkypop I'm with the detector van in the area, we think you need to renew your poetic license :-)

      1. Winkypop Silver badge

        Re: Fly me to the Moon….

        I bought my license many years ago. I have it here somewhere...

  5. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge


    The most important lessons to be learned from Ingenuity come from its use of COTS parts instead of hyper-expensive "space-rated" stuff.

    This shows that it's possible to reduce costs by at least an order of a magnitude (factor 10) in future missions. Also, we may see smaller organizations, both private and public (such as amateur and universities) flying interplanetary missions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: COTS

      The thing about "space rated" stuff is that it has been designed (and tested) to survive a wide temperature range and a certain amount of radiation damage. This is highly desirable when it's not practical to return the part to the COTS vendor for a repair when it fails.

      As such, expect future helicopter missions to Mars, Titan etc. to be using space qualified parts where possible. Ingenuity wouldn't have been a disaster for the entire mission if it had failed, it was included mainly as a proof of concept, not a critical part of the mission.

      1. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

        Re: COTS

        Automotive Grade is usually good enough for parts that fly into space. The only difference between Automotive Grade and Space-Rated is that the latter are individually tested.

        If one can make an interplanetary probe for $10 million instead of $1 billion then it makes sense to take more risk or build multiple copies in case one fails. The whole rat-race starts with launch costs in excess of $20.000 per kg. Those force one to build something that's almost guaranteed to work which again leads to component prices that are sky-high.

        Luckily Starship and its fully reusable successors will put an end to this.

        1. ArrZarr Silver badge

          Re: COTS

          While you're right for the most part, if it's something particularly heavy, then you need to factor in the cost of fuel or the weight capacity of the launch vehicle.

          I think NASA has it right for the most part where they build multiple levels of redundancy into the system of a single item like they did with Apollo and which allowed them to bring Apollo 13 back in one* piece.

        2. Mike 137 Silver badge

          Re: COTS

          "The only difference between Automotive Grade and Space-Rated is that the latter are individually tested

          From my (very) limited experience of space projects (mid-90s), space grade chips are (were then at least) in hermetic cerramic packages. Automotinve components were (then at least) encapsulated in plastic like COTS parts -- they were just specified for higher temperatures.

    2. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: COTS

      See also, Ford: "These brakes are too good"

      I think the costs of designing stuff and getting said stuff where it needs to go are going to continue to dwarf the cost of the stuff.

      Furthermore, some "belt and braces" costs are probably justified when your spares are literally years away.

    3. cray74

      Re: COTS

      Also, we may see smaller organizations, both private and public (such as amateur and universities) flying interplanetary missions.

      Private organizations fly space exploration missions now. NASA and the ESA offer contracts with decent profit margins to their private contractors and university partners. Ingenuity, for example, was dependent on the design work of AeroVironment.

      On their own, private organizations aren't going to do a lot of space exploration because there's no return on investment. SpaceX, often misconstrued as NASA's rival, has never built or operated a space exploration mission at all. Its in-house programs like Dragon, Starship, and Starlink are oriented toward the usual sources of money in space: communications, launch services, and government contracts.

      If you're curious, NASA has some studies on the fun of getting COTS electronics into space systems:

      COTS space hardware

      You don't save as much money with COTS as hoped, there are reliability challenges, and testing over the full range of operating conditions inhales cash.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: COTS

        A DJI Mini 3 ought to do it.

        1. Martin Gregorie

          Re: COTS

          The Martian atmosphere is rather thin: when Aurora was working on a foldable, rocket powered Marsplane, the prototypes were test flown by taking then up to somewhat over 100,000 ft under a balloon and dropping them: the Martian atmosphere near ground level is very similar in pressure, density and temperature to our atmosphere at 100,000 ft. The Aurora tests, launched from Hawaii, were successful: by the time their marsplane and its balloon had reached around 105 Kfeet it was a good 100 miles downwind of the islands. After flying the test schedule the marsplane was down to just under 100 Kfeet and at least one of them was successfully glided back upwind and landed near its launch point in Hawaii.

          What's the maximum altitude a DJI Mini has reached? I know that a DJI Mavic 3 drone has been flown from the summit of Mount Everest and successfully climbed another 400m, so to 33238 feet, but even a U-2 can only reach around 78,000 feet and Perlan 2, a high altitude pressurised glider, has reached 76,000 feet (23km) and has a designed maximum altitude of around 90,000 feet.

          Both these aircraft have flown at twice the height that DJI Mavic 3 drone reached above Everest.

          You'll have noticed that the Mars Heli was both carefully designed to save weight and has a much bigger rotor diameter than anything of similar weight that's usually flown here. The area of its rotor blades is a lot higher too: increasing both its rotor diameter and its blade area would be needed to fly in such a low density atmosphere as we find on Mars.

          I expect that any COTS drone would not be able fly on Mars because its weight would be too high for its rotors, which are designed to fly in the part of our atmosphere that people can live in, to lift off the sands of Mars.

          1. Orv Silver badge

            Re: COTS

            They'd fly like gangbusters on Titan though. ;)

      2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        Re: COTS

        If you buy your COTS hardware from one of the obvious suppliers, Abaco, Curtis Wright, Mercury, etc. then all the issues raised in the (very old) NASA report have already been designed and selected out, by the supplier. I think that you will find that all of the above have COTS kit that regularly travels on space missions.

  6. FrogsAndChips Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Evolutionary edge

    Being able to fly, it stands a good chance of reclaiming Opportunity's half of Mars for itself.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Evolutionary edge

      Opportunity's been dead[0] for about 5 years, it can't even control it's own battery.

      [0] More probably dormant, but nobody's going to volunteer to dust its panels anything soon.

      1. stiine Silver badge

        Re: Evolutionary edge

        Could they dust them with the Mars Helicopter?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Evolutionary edge

          Sure.[0] Unfortunately, said chopper is not in the next valley over. It's on the other side of the planet. It would run out of battery charge cycles long before it got there.

          [0] Maybe. The atmosphere is kinda thin, and the chopper generates barely enough lift to keep itself up.

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