With over 50 flights on Mars under its belt, NASA‘s Mars Ingenuity helicopter continues to amaze the scientific community. During its 51st flight on Saturday, April 22, Ingenuity snapped a photo of its robotic companion, the Perseverance Rover, from 12 meters above the Martian surface.
In the photo, Perseverance can be seen in the background, stationary on the planet’s red soil, almost indistinguishable from the large rocks scattered in the Martian landscape.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) shared the image on Twitter (ref.) on Monday, April 24, adding that Ingenuity’s 51st flight lasted just under 137 seconds and saw the small helicopter travel a total of 188 meters. The two robots on the surface of Mars have taken turns taking impressive photos of each other.
Just last week, Perseverance snapped a photo of Ingenuity that showed an impressive amount of Martian dust accumulated on the helicopter’s rotors. Ingenuity’s latest leap came just nine days after its 50th flight. The 1.8-kilogram dual-rotor helicopter was originally intended to make only five flights in the almost non-existent Martian atmosphere to determine if flight was feasible on the Red Planet.
Since its first flight in April 2021, the courageous helicopter has continued to prove itself capable of repeated takeoffs and landings. “It’s blown away every kind of success metric” said Theodore Tzanetos, head of the Ingenuity team at JPL, in March 2023. Obviously, due to the distance between Mars and Earth, remote piloting is impossible. Ingenuity travels pre-programmed flight paths carefully calculated by dozens of JPL engineers.
Helicopters in the Mars Sample Return mission
The Mars Ingenuity helicopter has become a scout of sorts for Perseverance, helping to identify points of interest for the rover in its mission to search for signs of ancient life on Mars. Perseverance has been busy collecting soil and rock samples that will one day be brought back to Earth through the ambitious Mars Sample Return mission.
That campaign, a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), will also send helicopters to Mars to retrieve samples that Perseverance has seeded along its collection path if necessary. The basic plan calls for Perseverance to deliver its sample tubes to a lander equipped with a rocket. The helicopters will do this work if the rover is up to the task.