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Ingenuity's recent Mars flights

NASA's Mars Ingenuity Helicopter completed its 54th flight on the Red Planet, its first since an unplanned landing during Flight 53. The latest 25-second up-and-down hop provided insights into why Ingenuity abruptly halted its prior scout mission.

Flight 53 was meant to be a 136-second imaging run to aid Perseverance, traveling 666 feet at 16 feet altitude. But after 466 feet, Ingenuity's safety system initiated an auto-landing after just 74 seconds total.

As JPL team lead Teddy Tzanetos explained, Ingenuity has a "LAND_NOW" program to immediately ground itself if any anomalies occur. An issue syncing navigation camera images and motion data triggered this auto-landing.

A similar problem happened during Flight 6 in May 2021 from dropped images. While improved flight software mitigated subsequent image losses, Flight 53 exceeded allowable drops. "This flight is a valuable case study benefiting future off-world aircraft," noted Tzanetos.

Ingenuity landed on Mars in April 2021 - the first ever helicopter on another planet. Originally a tech demo for powered Mars flight, Ingenuity continues flying over two years later. But NASA expects a finite lifetime, swapping Mars Sample Return plans from fetch rovers to backup drones based on Ingenuity's success.

Flight 54's success confirms Ingenuity is ready for more Mars exploration. The recent anomaly reveals insights into pushing aviation systems to their limits on other worlds.

As NASA advances Mars air power, each Ingenuity flight accrues knowledge despite challenges. The helicopter's resilience and longevity continue exceeding expectations, cementing it as a pioneering planetary aerial scout.

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