Double Portrait of NASA’s Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity Helicopter


Perseverance and Ingenuity together on the surface of Mars.
Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

We’re used to seeing stark images of rovers all alone on the Red Planet, but Perseverance brought a friend. NASA has just released a stunning photo showing two vehicles—the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter—in a single shot.

Captured by the WATSON camera located on the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, the composite photo shows the six-wheeled vehicle and the four-bladed helicopter sitting pretty on the Martian surface, in what is an instant classic. Perseverance and Ingenuity were 13 feet (4 meters) apart when this portrait was taken, according to a NASA statement (if you’re curious, this post explains how NASA’s rovers are capable of taking such great selfies).

The 62 individual images used to create the photo were taken by the rover on April 6, or the 46th sol of the mission, in which a single Martian day equals 24 hours and 39 minutes on Earth. Yep, hard to believe, but Perseverance has been on Mars for 49 Earth days, having landed in Jezero Crater on February 18.

The size difference between the vehicles is striking. Perseverance—at 2,260 pounds (1,025 kg)—is the size of an SUV, while Ingenuity, which was previously strapped to the rover’s belly, weighs just 4 pounds (1.8 kg) and stands a modest 1.6 feet (0.46 meters) tall. Of course, these are their Earth weights; the vehicles are 62% lighter on Mars owing to the lower gravity (just one of the reasons that humans living on Mars is not a great idea).

We’re now only a few days from the inaugural flight. Ingenuity was plopped onto the surface this past weekend, on a special spot chosen for its flatness and lack of obstructions. Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are making their final adjustments before the first flight, including the release of Ingenuity’s rotor blades and tests of the motors.

Among the very final steps, the JPL team will transmit flight instructions to Perseverance, which will in turn relay the info to Ingenuity. NASA is currently targeting Monday April 12 at 3:30 a.m. ET for the inaugural flight, which is not an ideal viewing time for most people living in the Western Hemisphere. That said, this date and time is tentative, as the go-for-flight order could be held back due to weather, such as high winds. And yes, it’s actually possible for mission controllers to monitor the weather in Jezero Crater, thanks to the MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer) instrument aboard Perseverance.

With its rotors feverishly cutting through the thin Martian air at 2,537 rpm, Ingenuity will climb at a rate of 3 feet (1 meter) per second. After attaining a height of around 10 feet (3 meters), the helicopter will hang in the Martian sky to take in the view and reflect on its sublime achievement (or at least, that’s how I will choose to interpret the moment). Ingenuity will then descend back to its starting position.

Several hours after the dust has settled, Perseverance will transmit the flight data—and possibly even photographs captured by the rover’s Navigation Cameras and Mastcam-Z—back to Earth. From this initial batch of data, the team will learn if the flight, the first on another planet, was a success. A NASA press conference is planned for 11:00 a.m. ET Monday to discuss the flight test results.

More test flights of Ingenuity are planned for the coming 30 sols, and, should they go well, the JPL team will have the helicopter take its own images while airborne, providing a bird’s eye view of Jezero Crater and possibly even of Perseverance. Should that happen, that would most certainly qualify as something we don’t see every day.



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