Back in early September the small Ingenuity helicopter that NASA sent to Mars along with the Perseverance rover made its 13th flight on the red planet.
It was a technically demanding flight, traversing nearly 210 meters across rocky terrain largely impassable to the rover. Ingenuity reached a maximum altitude of about 8 meters before landing safely again. But what makes this flight truly special is that Perseverance was able to track the helicopter’s takeoff and flight.
Imagery from this flight was only recently relayed back to Earth, and the Mars rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has compiled the data into a video showing nearly the entire flight. This footage offers by far the best view we’ve ever seen of Ingenuity flying across the surface of Mars.
At the time of the flight, Ingenuity was about 300 meters away from the rover. But fortunately Perseverance has the most advanced pair of eyes ever sent to Mars. Located on top of the rover, the “Mastcam Z” instrument—the “Z” stands for zoom—has two cameras designed to provide the clearest possible imagery from Mars and make 3D imagery possible.
The un-zoomed footage shows this contrast nicely, with Ingenuity visible only as a tiny speck in the distance.
After this flight in September Ingenuity has taken things a little bit easier. It stood down for about six weeks during the Mars solar conjunction, when the red planet and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, making communications difficult. Ingenuity‘s engineers also had to deal with a problem affecting the helicopter’s small flight control motors, and then a thinning atmosphere during the Mars winter.
To compensate for a thinner atmosphere, Ingenuity had to prove it could spin its blades faster than they were designed for. After a short test flight in late October, Ingenuity made a triumphant return on November 6 with a 407-meter flight across a wintry Martian surface, ascending to an altitude of 12 meters. Its next flight, the autonomous helicopter’s 16th overall, could take place as soon as this Saturday.
The mission’s planners don’t know how long the plucky vehicle will last, because it has far out-lived its design lifetime, so they’re just enjoying the ride. Thanks to this new video, we can as well.