We hope this is just as inconsequential as having a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe, but images from the Ingenuity helicopter show it had a piece of debris fluttering from its leg during its most recent flight. A blog post from NASA said a small piece of foreign object debris (FOD) was seen in footage from the Mars helicopter’s navigation camera (Navcam) for a portion of its 33rd flight on September 24, 2022.
This piece of debris was not visible in Navcam footage from the previous flight, number 32. The FOD can be seen during Flight 33 Navcam from most of the earliest frames to approximately halfway through the video, when it fell from the leg and drifted back to the Mars surface.
The Ingenuity team wrote that “all telemetry from the flight and a post-flight search and transfer are nominal and show no indication of vehicle damage. The Ingenuity and Perseverance Mars 2020 teams are working to discern the source of the debris.”
Mostly Likely Explanation
The most likely explanation is that the piece of fabric is something left over from Perseverance’s parachute, or descent stage or even the backshell, which all worked in tandem to bring the rover and helicopter safely to the surface of Mars back in February of 2021. In July of this year, the rover found a weird string-like piece of debris, which also was likely from the landing system. Ingenuity snapped some amazing pictures of the backshell and parachute in April 2022.
During Ingenuity’s 33rd flight, the rotocraft was in in the air for just under a minute, reaching an altitude of 10 meters (33 feet) and traveled about 111 meters (365 feet).
Ingenuity stands about a half a meter (1.6 feet) tall and weighs about 1.8 kilograms (4 lbs) on Earth, and about 0.68 kilograms (1.5 lbs) on Mars. It’s rotor system is made from four specially made carbon fiber blades arranged into two 1.2-meter (4-foot)-long counter-rotating rotors that spin at roughly 2,400 rpm. Ingenuity has two cameras and is powered by a solar array on top of the rotor system that charges six lithium-ion batteries. Originally, the team was hoping for about 5 flights from the tiny helicopter, but now its up to 33 and still going strong … and hopefully only just a little embarrassed about that white stuff hanging from its leg.