NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has seen a lot on the Red Planet since it sent its first image back to Earth just over a year ago. Ingenuity has now set its sights on wreckage and debris from the Perseverance rover’s successful landing on Mars. Ingenuity’s new photos could still help inform future missions to Mars.
When the Perseverance rover landed on Mars, it was parachuted to the surface while protected by a backshell. This shell helped ensure a safe landing but was destroyed in the process. Ingenuity has captured detailed images of Perseverance’s backshell, supersonic parachute and associated debris.
‘Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,’ said Ian Clark of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Clark was a Perseverance systems engineer and is now a Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead. ‘But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.’
‘NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,’ said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. ‘Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.’
Landing on Mars is, as you’d expect, a stressful endeavor. The Mars rover experiences extreme temperatures, significant gravitational and other challenging situations as it enters Mars’ atmosphere at about 20,000 kph (12,500 mph).
The new images from Ingenuity provide more detail than the rover’s onboard cameras can show, plus an aerial perspective. The images may help future spacecraft with their landing on Mars, such as the Mars Sample Return Lander. The new lander will retrieve Perseverance’s samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere and sediment and return them to Earth for analysis.
|Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech|
For Ingenuity to capture the images, it required a lot of maneuvering during its 26th flight on Mars. Håvard Grip, chief pilot of Ingenuity at JPL, said, ‘To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12, and 13. Our landing spot set us up nicely to image an area of interest for the Perseverance science team on Flight 27, near ‘Séítah’ ridge.’
The helicopter’s new area of operations is in Jezero Crater’s dry river delta, a marked change from Ingenuity’s previous, relatively flat terrain. The delta could hold many secrets of Mars’ mysterious past, and perhaps even offer proof of microscopic life on the planet billions of years ago. The helicopter will help chart Perseverance’s path as it works its way to the top of the delta.