NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has taken images of the debris caused by the Perseverance rover landing on Mars in February 2021.
Engineers with the Mars Sample Return programme asked whether Ingenuity could provide this perspective. What resulted were 10 aerial colour images taken 19 April during Ingenuity’s Flight 26.
“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.”
Entry, descent, and landing on Mars is fast-paced and stressful, not only for the engineers back on Earth, but also for the vehicle enduring the gravitational forces, high temperatures, and other extremes that come with entering Mars’ atmosphere at nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph).
The parachute and backshell were previously imaged from a distance by the Perseverance rover. But those collected by the rotorcraft (from an aerial perspective and closer) provide more detail.
The images have the potential to help ensure safer landings for future spacecraft such as the Mars Sample Return Lander, which is part of a multimission campaign that would bring Perseverance’s samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere, and sediment back to Earth for detailed analysis.