Mars 2020

A Small Piece of “Foreign Object Debris” Fell off Ingenuity’s Leg During its 33rd Flight

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.

A small piece of foreign object debris (FOD) is seen in footage from the navigation camera of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 33rd flight on Mars on Sept 24, 2022. The FOD is seen attached to one of the rotorcraft’s landing legs, then drifting away. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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.”

A picture of the Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars, taken by the Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

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.

This image of the Perseverance rover’s parachute and backshell was taken by the Ingenuity helicopter during its 26th flight on April 22, 2022. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

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’s stats:

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.

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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