Perseverance Takes a Selfie With Ingenuity. It’s Almost Time to fly

Perseverance is having a proud parent moment in this image, looking like it’s waiting with a child at the bus stop on the first day of school.

The Mars 2020 rover took this selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, which is preparing to take the first controlled flight ever on another world. On April 3rd, Ingenuity was removed from its carbon-fiber compartment on the underside of Perseverance. Subsequent checkouts of Ingenuity are going well (engineers on Earth commander the rotors to turn yesterday, see below) and on Sunday, April 11th, it will make its first attempt at a powered flight.

The selfie was taken on April 6 (Sol 46 of the mission) with a camera called WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering), part of the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument, located at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Ingenuity was about 13 feet (4 meters) away from Perseverance. The image was created by stitching together 62 separate images. Here’s an article on how the rovers take the “selfies.”

While Perseverance has now moved further away from the helicopter, the proud parent will stay nearby for Ingenuity’s first flight, as well as the 30-day testing window to provide “support” and to relay commands from Earth.  There’s an overlook point about 200 feet (60 meters) away where Perseverance will “watch” (aka, take pictures with its cameras) the Mars helicopter’s first flight.  

For the first flight, JPL mission controllers will send flight instructions to Perseverance, which will relay them to Ingenuity. JPL says that several factors will determine the precise time for the flight, including modeling of local wind patterns informed by measurements taken by the rover’s weather station, the MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer). Ingenuity will run its rotors to 2,537 rpm and, if all final self-checks look good, lift off. After climbing at a rate of about 3 feet per second (1 meter per second), the helicopter will hover at 10 feet (3 meters) above the surface for up to 30 seconds. Then, Ingenuity will descend and touch back down on the Martian surface.

We can expect to get details of the first flight (engineering data and possibly images, confirming if the flight was successful) back on Earth during the early morning hours on April 11. The current expectations are that data will be received at about 3:30 am EDT/12:30 am PDT/ 7 am UTC. A post-flight news briefing is currently scheduled later at 11 am EDT/8 am PDT/3 pm UTC.

There is a pre-flight briefing today (Friday 9 April) at 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT/ 5 pm UTC. You can watch here.  

Further reading: NASA’s Mars 2020 webpage