Ingenuity’s Flight 12 was a Tricky one, Flying Over Hazardous Terrain

The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has now completed its 12th flight, where it acted as a scout, looking ahead for dangerous terrain for it’s partner in crime, the Perseverance rover.

The 4-pound autonomous rotocraft climbed over almost 10 meters (33 ft) high, and traveled a total of 450 meters (1,476 ft) in 169 seconds. It flew over the over an area dubbed the ‘South Seitah’ region of Mars, where Perseverance will explore.

“A dozen for the books!” said JPL on Twitter. “The Mars helicopter’s latest flight took us to the geological wonder that is the ‘South Seitah’ region.”

In performing aerial scouting, Ingenuity, aka, captured images that scientists and engineers hope will help determine which of the boulders, rocky outcrops and other geologic features may be worthy of further scrutiny by the rover.

This flight was ambitious and risky, the science team said in a blog post.

Because Ingenuity’s navigation system was designed to support short technology demonstration flights across nearly flat terrain, “deviations from this assumption can introduce errors that can lead both to temporary excursions in roll and pitch (tilting back and forth in an oscillating pattern), as well as long-term errors in the helicopter’s knowledge of its position,” the team wrote.

Image of the Ingenuity helicopter, taken by the Perseverance rover’s MastCam-Z on June 15, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL/

But they ‘chose the danger’ in this flight because of the correspondingly high rewards.

“Knowing that we have the opportunity to help the Perseverance team with science planning by providing unique aerial footage is all the motivation needed,” they said.

Flight 12 was similar to Flight 10, where Ingenuity scouted for a surface feature called “Raised Ridges,” taking about 10 pictures.  These ridges belong to a fracture system, which often serve as pathways for fluid to flow underground, which is defintely something the rover team wants to check out. But there are also big dangerous sand dunes in the area that the rover team wants to avoid at all costs, due to the likelihood of the rover getting stuck.

That’s why Ingenuity is acting as a scout, looking ahead for any dangers.

The helicopter made a 5-meter “sidestep” maneuver, in order to get side-by-side images of the surface terrain in order for the team to be able to create stereo, or 3D, images. Then, while keeping the camera in the same direction, Ingenuity backtracked, returning to the same area from where it took off.

Perseverance is moving northwest across the southern ridge of Seitah and is expected to meet up with Ingenuity in the next few days.

Perseverance and Ingenuity landed on Mars in February. Ginny took her first flight on April 19, climbing to about 10 feet before completing a turn and descending back to the planet’s surface. Since then, Ingenuity has logged more than 20 minutes of flight, covering more than 1.2 nautical miles. She exceeded her “nominal” or expected total mission flight distance during her third flight, and the flight duration was exceeded in the fourth flight on April 30. 

Keep tabs on Ingenuity at this website, and Perseverance here.