As researchers at U.S space agency NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory prepare for the 16th flight of Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter, the team has used recently downloaded data from the Mars mission to create the best video yet of one of Ingenuity’s previous flights.
The 1.8-kilogram aircraft arrived on the planet packed away on NASA’s Perseverance rover when it landed on Mars in February. Originally designed to be a simple demonstration project to prove flight was possible in the thin Martian atmosphere, the aircraft has far exceeded expectations and has completed 15 flights.
JPL scientists say Ingenuity’s 16th flight is scheduled to take place no earlier than Saturday. In the meantime, they have been examining the video footage taken by Perseverance of the helicopter’s 13th flight on September 4, which they say provides the most detailed look yet of the Martian aircraft in action.
The Ingenuity team said the helicopter is providing NASA with data to guide the Perseverance rover. They said the 2 minutes, 40.5 seconds Flight 13 was one of Ingenuity’s most complicated. It involved flying into varied terrain within a geological feature known as the “Séítah” and taking images of an outcrop from multiple angles for the rover team.
The images, taken from an altitude of 8 meters, complement those collected during Ingenuity’s previous flights, providing valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers.
The video was captured by the rover’s two-camera Mastcam-Z. One video clip of Flight 13 shows most of Ingenuity’s flight profile. The other provides a closeup of takeoff and landing, which was acquired as part of a science observation intended to measure the dust plumes generated by the helicopter.
Justin Maki, JPL’s Mastcam-Z principal operator, said the video shows the value of the camera system, and while the helicopter is little more than a speck in the wide view, “It gives viewers a good feel for the size of the environment that Ingenuity is exploring.”
Ingenuity’s performance will guide how future missions will be designed and how those missions will utilize aircraft to help determine where rovers should go and where they cannot.
Aside from solar batteries, a camera and a transmitter, Ingenuity carries no scientific instruments.