NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has retired its Mars helicopter Ingenuity after the craft suffered damage during landing.

The aircraft, which arrived on Mars with the Perseverance rover in 2021, had initially been scheduled to fly five times. In the past almost three years, it completed 72 flights.

“New images confirm the Mars Helicopter sustained rotor damage during Flight 72,” JPL wrote on social media on 25 January. “Our helicopter has flown its final flight.”


Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The shadow of a damaged rotor blade on NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity

“Ingenuity defied the odds and captured our hearts.”

The unmanned robotic rotorcraft, which weighs about 1.8kg (4lb) and has a 1.2 metre (4ft)-diameter rotor, left earth on 30 July 2020 in the belly of Mars rover Perseverance. Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater on the red planet’s surface on 18 February 2021.

Once on Mars, Ingenuity was dropped gently onto the planet’s surface a few weeks later.

”Ingenuity is intended to demonstrate technologies needed for flying in the Martian atmosphere,” the US space agency said at the time. ”If successful, these technologies could enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that might be part of future robotic and human missions to Mars.”

Ingenuity, Mars rover impression

Source: NASA

Artist’s impression of Ingenuity with NASA’s Mars rover

The helicopter first flew on 19 April 2021, making it the first powered controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. It ascended to 10ft above the surface during a 39sec flight. The aircraft hovered, turned 96° and hovered again before landing. At the time it was a sensation.

That flight was the first of a planned five test flights of the sophisticated drone in a 30-day flight-test window.

But after those five, increasingly complex sorties, Ingenuity kept flying.

On 18 January, Ingenuity sustained damage to ”one or more of its rotor blades… during landing and it is no longer capable of flight”.

”The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to end,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson says. “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,” he adds.