NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter continues to give us views of the Red Planet that we’ve never seen before.
During its most recent flight, which took place on April 19, the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) plane Ingenuity he photographed the parachute and the rear casing that helped him and NASA Perseverance The rover lands inside the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021.
This was not a casual sighting. The Ingenuity team was asked to attempt to obtain an image of Perseverance’s landing gear to help NASA and the European Space Agency’s joint Mars Sample Return Project, which aims to transport the material Perseverance collects to the Earth. Land. maybe as early as 2033.
Related: 1 year later, the Ingenuity helicopter is still going strong on Mars
“Perseverance had the best documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to landing,” Ian Clark of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, former Perseverance systems engineer and now lead of the ascent phase of Mars Sample Return, said in a statement on Wednesday (April 27).
“But the Ingenuity images offer a different point of view,” Clark added. “If they reinforce that our systems worked the way we think they did or even provide an engineering information dataset that we can use for Mars sample return planning, that will be amazing. And if not, the images are still phenomenal and inspiring.” .
The conical back shell helped Perseverance, with Ingenuity tucked into her belly, survive the long journey from the Red Planet to Earth, as well as the brief but scorching journey through the atmosphere of mars. The mission’s supersonic parachute, 21.5 meters (70.5 ft) wide, was the largest ever deployed on Mars. It drastically delayed the rover’s descent, which was eventually lowered to Jezero’s floor on cables by a rocket-powered overhead crane.
The rear shell and parachute did their job well, as evidenced by the good health of the Perseverance and Ingenuity. And initial analyzes of the new Ingenuity photos suggest that the landing gear held up very well despite the tremendous stresses it endured. (The rear case is in pieces, but that’s not surprising given that it hit the Martian surface at about 78 mph, or 126 kph, on landing day.)
For example, “the protective layer of the rear casing appears to have remained intact during entry into the Martian atmosphere. Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the rear casing to the parachute are visible and also appear intact,” JPL officials wrote in the same statement.
And, although only a third of the parachute is visible in the Ingenuity images, “the canopy shows no signs of damage from supersonic airflow during inflation,” JPL officials added in the statement. “Several weeks of analysis will be necessary for a more definitive verdict.”
During the 159-second flight on April 19, Ingenuity took 10 photos of the backshell and parachute from a variety of perspectives. The helicopter traveled a total of 360 meters (1,181 feet) on departure, flying at an altitude of 8 meters (26 feet), JPL officials said.
“In order to get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvers, but we were confident because there were tricky maneuvers on flights 10, 12 and 13,” Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at JPL, said in the same statement.
The flight was Ingenuity’s 26th flight to the Red Planet, and occurred on the one year anniversary of its historic first Martian incursion.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, originally tasked with a five-flight mission designed to demonstrate that aerial exploration is possible on Mars. The helicopter is now operating on an extended mission, pushing the limits of Red Planet flight and serving as a scout for Perseverance, which hunts lives and collects samples.
perseverance recently reached the remains of a river delta that existed in the soil of Jezero billions of years ago. The rover team is excited to study and sample the area, which may contain evidence of ancient life on the Red Planet. And Ingenuity, which isn’t quite there yet, will be a big part of this effort.
“Upon reaching the delta, Ingenuity’s first orders may be to help determine which of the two dry channels of the Perseverance River to climb to reach the top of the delta,” JPL officials wrote in the statement.
“Along with route planning assistance, the data provided by the helicopter will help the Perseverance team assess potential science targets,” they added. “Ingenuity can even be called upon to image geologic features too far away for the rover to reach or to explore landing zones and surface sites where sample caches could be deposited for the Mars Sample Return program.”
Mike Wall is the author of “out there(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacepointcom or in Facebook.