NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter spots Perseverance debris

Debris from the Perseverance rover’s landing captured by the Ingenuity helicopter from an altitude of 26 feet. | Source: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter spotted the Perseverance Rover’s parachute and cone-shaped backshell from the rover’s descent to Mars. Ingenuity came across the debris during Flight 26 on April 19, 2022. 

Perseverance’s 70.5 foot wide parachute helped the rover land on Mars after making its way through the Martian atmosphere at nearly 12,500 mph. The rover hit the surface of Mars at 78 mph, with protection from its backshell. Perseverance imaged the debris from a distance earlier this month, but Ingenuity’s images provide more detail. 

“NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said. “Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.”

Ingenuity’s images could help NASA engineers ensure safe landings for future spacecrafts, like the Mars Sample Return Lander. The Perseverance rover is tasked with collecting rock samples from Mars, which will eventually be returned to Earth. The Sample Return Lander will be sent to Mars to retrieve the samples. 

The images Ingenuity captured show the rover’s backshell, with it’s protective coating appearing intact, and parachute. The image also shows some of the 80 high-strength suspension lines that connect the backshell to the parachute, many of which appear intact as well. While only a portion of the parachute can be seen, it also shows no signs of damage. 

“Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,” Ian Clark, former Perseverance systems engineer and now Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead, said. “But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.”

Perseverance began its journey on Mars in February, 2021. It cored its first rock in September 2021 and collected two samples from it. The rover is a 2022 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award winner for the achievement.

Attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover was the Ingenuity Helicopter, which touched down on Mars in April 2021. Ingenuity was the first ever helicopter to be sent to another planet. It was sent as a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars. The helicopter is currently exploring the Jezero Crater’s dry river delta on the red planet. 

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