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NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity completes third successful flight

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NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity completes third successful flight
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen hovering during its third flight on Sunday as seen by the left navigation camera aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. The copter is in the upper third and slightly right of the image. Photo courtesy NASA

April 25 (UPI) -- NASA completed the third successful flight of its Mars helicopter Ingenuity on Sunday.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., announced the successful flight in a tweet Sunday morning, declaring that the helicopter "continues to set records" flying faster and farther.

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"The space chopper is demonstrating critical capabilities that could enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future missions to Mars and beyond," NASA said.

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The helicopter took off at 1:31 a.m. PDT rising 16 feet, matching the altitude of its second flight Thursday, and flying 164 feet to the north, reaching a top speed of 6.6 feet per second.

"Today's flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing," Dave Lavery, project program executive for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

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Thursday's flight lasted 51 seconds and flew 6 feet higher than the first test on Monday.

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Ingenuity is a technology demonstration with two more weeks of operations scheduled. NASA is eventually expected to test the limits of the aircraft to an extent that it is likely to crash.

Officials have also tested the aim of Ingenuity's cameras to provide images from Mars and NASA said the Ingenuity team is "pushing the helicopter's limits" by adding instructions for it to capture more of its own photos.

"This is the first time we've seen the algorithm for the camera running over a long distance," said MiMi Aung, the helicopter's project manager. "You can't do this inside a test chamber."

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Once Ingenuity's tests are complete the Perseverance rover mission will move on to its primary purpose -- drilling rock samples in a hunt for signs of past life on the planet.

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