It was originally designed to make the first powered flight on another world and follow it up with four more trips scything its way through the Martian air.
But NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has now racked up three times as many jaunts after completing a 15th successful flight on the Red Planet on Saturday.
The craft flew at around 11mph for just over two minutes as it started its journey back to its original landing site to reunite with the Mars rover Perseverance.
It was the second flight since a two-week blackout caused by the Red Planet’s position in space.
In flight: NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has now completed a total of 15 flights on the Red Planet
This image shows where Ingenuity is compared to the Perseverance rover on the Red Planet
INGENUITY FLIGHTS SO FAR
Flight one: April 19, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 9.8ft, stationary hover and a landing
Flight two: April 22, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, then shift westward for 14ft before returning and landing
Flight three: April 25, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, shift northwards for 328ft at an airspeed of 2 m/s before returning to land
Flight four: April 30, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 16ft, hover, shift southwards 873ft at 3.5m/s before returning to land
Flight five: May 7, 2021 with a vertical takeoff up to 33ft, hover, shift southwards 423ft at 3.5 m/s before landing at that new location
Flight six: May 22, 2021 with a vertical takeoff of 33ft, hover, shift southwest 492ft at 9mph, travel 49ft south, travel 164ft before returning to land
Flight seven: June 8, 2021 with a vertical takeoff of 33ft, hover, shift 348ft at 9mph, land at Airfield D
Flight eight: June 21, 2021 with a vertical takeoff, hover, shift southwest 520ft, land at Airfield E 438ft away from Perseverance
Flight nine: July 5, 2021 with a record length of 2,050ft southwest over a prospective research location at 16ft per second.
Flight ten: July 24, 2021 with a record height of 40 feet (12 metres) over Raised Ridges to Airfield G. Flight duration 165.4 seconds.
Flight eleven: August 5, 2021 by flying 1,250ft for 130 seconds in preparation for a series of reconnaissance missions for the Perseverance rover.
Flight Twelve: August 16, 2021 by flying 1,476ft for 169 seconds, climbing 32.8ft in the air, over the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars.
Flight Thirteen: September 5, 2021 by flying 690ft for 160.5 seconds, climbing 26ft over one particular ridgeline over the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars.
Flight Fourteen: October 25, 2021 by flying a ‘short hop’ of 6.5ft (2m) to test out higher rpm settings. It flew for 23 seconds at 1mph at an altitude of 16ft (5m).
Flight Fifteen: November 6, 2021 by flying back towards its original landing site. It flew for a total of 128 seconds at an estimated 11mph.
In a tweet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote: ‘The #MarsHelicopter successfully completed its 15th flight on Mars.
‘It flew for 128.8 seconds. Preliminary localization places us within our targeted landing zone.
‘Ingenuity opportunistically took images of science interest and they’ll be processed soon.’
The 14th and 15th flights are also the first Ingenuity has completed in Mars’ summertime, when the helicopter’s rotors must turn faster to achieve flight because of the warmer temperatures and lower air density.
It is beginning its journey back to the Wright Brothers Field at the Octavia E. Butler landing site, before venturing beyond, NASA said.
The US space agency added that the helicopter will join Perseverance ‘in the trek north along the east edge of Séítah, before traveling west to reach the Jezero ancient river delta.’
To get there, however, it will need to complete around four to seven flights, Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory revealed in a blog.
He added that experts are also considering preparing a flight software upgrade for the helicopter, ‘which will potentially enable new navigation capabilities onboard, and better prepare Ingenuity for the challenges ahead’.
It is currently acting as a scout for the Perseverance rover, which is searching for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
Ingenuity was previously forced to abort its attempt at a 14th flight last month, prior to the blackout, when data indicated a problem with mechanisms that help control direction and position of the rotors.
This has not been an issue ahead of the last two flights but engineers are concerned that the helicopter’s parts could be weakening because of its extended mission and the stress of extreme temperatures on Mars.
The rovers Perseverance and Curiosity, as well as the lander InSight, also lost connection with Earth from October 2.
During solar conjunction — when Earth and Mars can’t ‘see’ each other — the sun expels hot, ionized gas from its hot outer atmosphere, or corona, and this gas can interfere with radio signals if engineers try to communicate with spacecraft on the Red Planet.
Perseverance was stationed 575ft (175m) away from Ingenuity during the blackout.
The rover took weather measurements, looked for dust devils with its cameras, and captured new sounds with its microphones as part of its ‘homework’.
Perseverance is currently heading south from its landing spot on the Jezero Crater, while Ingenuity is scouting locations to help it plot its way on the ground.
Ingenuity arrived on Mars attached to the belly of Perseverance, which touched down on Mars on February 18 after a nearly seven-month journey through space.
Perseverance made its first test drive on Mars on March 4, and on April 4, NASA confirmed that Ingenuity had been dropped to the surface of Mars from Perseverance’s ‘belly’ in preparation for its historic flight.
The craft flew at around 11mph for just over two minutes (pictured) as it started its journey back to its original landing site to reunite with the Mars rover Perseverance
Ingenuity (pictured in an artist’s impression) is currently acting as a scout for the Perseverance rover, which is searching for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet