Ingenuity is now Mapping the Terrain Around Perseverance

Having eyes in the sky is useful for a variety of activities.  Everything from farming to military operations has benefited from the boom in drone usage, as the small aircraft track the progress of crop disease, enemy movements, or how awesome a professor skier looks going down a mountain.  Now the benefits of aerial surveillance has spread to other worlds as Perseverance is starting to map out its path with help from Ingenuity.

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Ingenuity’s 6th Flight Didn’t Go So Smoothly

When NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on February 18th, 2021, it brought with it an interesting little companion that’s been causing quite a stir of late! We are talking, of course, about the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, an experimental flight system designed to demonstrate if aerial systems can work on Mars. Since its inaugural flight on April 19th, the helicopter has been pushing the boundaries of flight on Mars, going farther and faster each time.

In fact, the helicopter managed to establish multiple records in the course of its first five flights, reaching a maximum distance of 266 m (873 ft) in 117 seconds. Unfortunately, things did not go so well for Ingenuity during its sixth and latest flight. Due to a navigation timing error, the helicopter strayed from its flight path, but managed to land safely just a few meters from where it was supposed to.

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Ingenuity Makes a one-way Trip for the First Time, Flying to a new Landing Site

Ever feel like no matter how far you fly you end up in the same spot?  Ingenuity certainly does.  The helicopter that has been making dozens of headlines lately for all of the firsts it is achieving as part of its mission on Mars so far has only returned back to its original take-off point.  Named Wright Brothers Field, after the brothers who first brought controlled powered flight to Earth, it has been the site of all of Ingenuity’s firsts so far.  But now the basic science of Ingenuity’s mission is over and it is time to start moving on, which it did last week to a new “air field”.

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Ingenuity Completes a Huge 50-Meter Flight on Mars

On Feb. 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover landed on Mars carrying the most advanced scientific instruments ever sent to another planet. It also carried experiments designed to push the envelope of exploration and help pave the way for crewed missions to Mars. This includes the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, an experimental flight system designed to see if aerial systems can operate in the Martian atmosphere.

After making its inaugural flight on April 19th, Ingenuity has taken to the air twice more and set many records in the process. During its most recent test flight (which took place on the morning of April 25th), the helicopter flew farther and faster than ever before. All told, the helicopter covered a distance of 50 meters (164 feet) in 80 seconds, reaching a top speed of 2 m/s (6.6 feet per second) or 7.2 km/hour (4.5 mph).

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How’s the Weather in Jezero Crater? According to Perseverance: Cold

On February 18th, 2021, the Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on Mars. Shortly thereafter, it powered up some of the scientific instruments it will use to conduct science operations and search for potential evidence of past life. One such instrument is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), which turned on for 30 minutes and issued the rover’s first weather report from Mars.

The forecast? Bitter Cold! Basically, the temperature was lower than what you’d expect on a harsh and windy winter’s night here on Earth! According to the data the rover sent back, which was received by mission controllers at 05:25 P.M. EST (08:25 P.M. PST), the local temperature around the Octavia E. Bulter landing in the Jezero crater was -20 °C (- 4 °F) when MEDA started recording, then dropped to -25.6 °C (-14 °F) within 30 minutes.

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Mars Helicopter Survives its First Night on Mars is Getting Ready to Fly

On April 3rd, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter was removed from its carbon-fiber shield on the Perseverance rover’s belly. On Sunday, April 11th, it will make its first attempt at a powered, controlled flight, becoming the first aircraft to operate on another planet. In the meantime, Ingenuity accomplished another major milestone as it survived its first full night on the Martian surface.

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