NASA's Mars helicopter

NASA’s Mars helicopter will make a triumphant return to its own airstrip.

After its initial flight, NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity was deemed a success, but the little machine had bigger plans. It is completed 14 flights over Mars’ Jezero Crater and is set to go on a magnificent voyage back to Wright Brothers Field, where it all began.

On a journey back to where they both began, Ingenuity will be tracking its larger companion, the Perseverance rover. It is all part of a plan to bring the rover’s current science campaign to a close in the Seitah region. If everything goes according to plan, the two machines will meet near their landing spot and embark on a new voyage together to a different region of the crater.

To get the chopper back to Wright Brothers Field, the Ingenuity team is planning a sequence of four to seven flights.

In a status update on Friday, Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos wrote, “Along the road, the project is considering preparing a flight software upgrade for our helicopter, which might potentially enable additional navigation capabilities on board, and better prepare Ingenuity for the difficulties ahead.” The last flight of Ingenuity, No. 14, was a successful short hop aimed to test increased rotor speeds to compensate for seasonal fluctuations in the crater’s atmosphere. The 15th flight will depart no earlier than Saturday.

Flight 15 is scheduled to take 130 seconds and cover a distance of 1,332 feet (406 meters). Along the trip, ingenuity will take images to relay back to Earth.

Right now, Ingenuity’s main task is to function as a scout for Perseverance. In an exciting area that was previously a lakebed, the rover is collecting samples and looking for traces of ancient microbial life. The two machines are collaborating to create one of the best buddy stories ever told.