NASA’s Perseverance rover just got another glimpse of its pioneering robotic cousin.
The car-sized Perseverance recently snapped a photo of the Ingenuity helicopter as the 4-pound (1.8 kilogram) rotorcraft sat atop a sand dune on the Red Planet.
“The #MarsHelicopter and I are closer to each other than we’ve been in a while, and guess who I saw resting on a dune between flights. Can you believe Ingenuity getting ready for Flight 39?” the Perseverance team said via Twitter (opens in a new tab) on Wednesday, January 11, in an article containing a photo of the small helicopter.
Related: Fly over the tracks of the Mars rover with the Ingenuity helicopter (video)
Ingenuity and perseverance landed together inside Mars’ Jezero crater in February 2021. The 45-kilometer-wide Jezero long ago housed a large lake and river delta, and Perseverance roams the region at the search for signs of ancient life on Mars.
The six-wheeled robot also collects and caches dozens of samples for future return to Earth. For the past few weeks, Perseverance has cached some of its sample tubes in a “depot” in a part of Jezero’s ground that the mission team calls Three Forks.
Perseverance has so far filed six of the 10 sample tubes provided (opens in a new tab) in the Three Forks repository, which serves as a backup in case the rover isn’t healthy enough to ferry material to a future NASA lander later this decade. A rocket aboard this lander will launch the samples into Mars orbit, where they will be picked up by a European spacecraft and returned to Earth. Samples could land here as early as 2033.
Deposit samples are duplicates; Perseverance consists of keeping on your body a set of materials drilled from the same target rocks. If necessary, two Ingenuity-type helicopters that will take off with the future lander will fly to Three Forks and pick up the sample tubes there one by one.
Ingenuity currently serves as a scout for Perseverance, helping the rover team choose the best routes through Jezero’s rugged landscape and identify promising outcrops for further study.
This work is part of the helicopter’s expanded mission. Shortly after landing, Ingenuity completed its first five-flight campaign, showing that powered flight is possible in the thin Martian atmosphere.
Ingenuity made its 39th Martian flight on Wednesday, covering 140 meters (459 feet) of ground in nearly 79 seconds. To date, the helicopter has flown a total of 25,690 feet (7,830 m) on Mars and has remained airborne for more than 64 minutes, according to the mission’s flight log. (opens in a new tab).
Perseverance has already captured footage from Ingenuity. The rover took photos of the helicopter right after it deployed on Jezero soil, for example, and also recorded video of Ingenuity’s 13th flight, which took place in September 2021.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) and on Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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