An Ingenuity helicopter takes pictures of a debris field on Mars
During its one-year anniversary flight on April 19, the small helicopter took pictures of the striped parachute used in the landing of Perseverance – often called “7 minutes of terror” because it occurs faster than the radio signals can’t reach Earth from Mars – February 18, 2021. He also spotted the cone-shaped back shell that helped protect the rover and Ingenuity on the journey from Earth to Mars and on its spirited descent and plunging towards the Martian surface.
Engineers working on the Mars Sample Return program, an ambitious, multi-mission process to return Martian samples collected by Perseverance to Earth by the 2030s, asked if Ingenuity could collect these images on its 26th flight.
Studying the components that enabled a safe landing can help them prepare for future missions to the Red Planet that will require landing and even launching from the Martian surface for the first time.
“NASA has expanded Ingenuity’s flight operations to perform pioneering flights like this,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a communicated.
“Each time we are airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and provides insight that no previous planetary mission could reach. The Mars Sample Return reconnaissance application is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on March.”
During entry, descent and landing, the spacecraft faces scorching temperatures and gravitational forces as it plunges through the Martian atmosphere at nearly 12,500 miles per hour (20,000 kilometers per hour).
Previously, we’ve only seen images of the abandoned landing gear from a rover’s perspective, such as an image taken by Perseverance showing the parachute and rear hull from a distance. Aerial footage, first captured by Ingenuity 26 feet (8 meters) in the air, provides more detail.
“Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to landing,” said Ian Clark, former Perseverance systems engineer and current phase lead. Mars Sample Return at JPL, in a statement.
“But the Ingenuity images provide a different perspective. Whether they reinforce that our systems worked the way we think they worked or provide even a data set of technical information that we can use for Mars sample return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the images are still phenomenal and inspiring.”
The back shell can be seen among a field of debris it created after hitting the Martian surface while moving at around 78 miles per hour (126 kilometers per hour). But the protective coating of the rear hull seems intact, as do the 80 lines that connect it to the parachute.
The orange and white parachute is visible, covered in dust, but the canopy shows no damage. It was the largest parachute used on Mars to date, at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide. The team will continue to analyze the images to determine if the parachute has undergone any changes over the next few weeks.
During Ingenuity’s 26th aerial excursion, the helicopter flew a total of 1,181 feet (360 meters). So far he has logged 49 minutes of total flight time and flown 3.9 miles (6.3 kilometers) over the past year.
“To get the photos we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvers, but we were confident because there were some tricky maneuvers on flights 10, 12 and 13,” Ingenuity chief pilot Håvard Grip told The Daily Mail. JPL, in a statement. “Our landing spot prepared us well to image an area of interest for the Perseverance science team on Flight 27, near the ridge of ‘Séítah’.”
The helicopter and rover arrived at an ancient river delta where water once flowed into Jezero Crater millions of years ago.
The towering delta rises more than 130 feet (40 meters) above the crater floor and is riddled with boulders, sand pockets and jagged cliffs – and it might be the best place to look for signs of ancient life if it ever existed on Mars.
Ingenuity has the crucial task of surveying two dry river channels to see which Perseverance should use to climb to the top of the delta. It can also share images of features that could become potential science targets for the rover.
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