You’ve probably seen a lot of photos of the Curiosity Mars rover and its successor Perseverance. However, these photos were all taken here on Earth or by the rovers themselves on the Red Planet. For the first time, we now have an aerial view of NASA’s robotic explorer, courtesy of Ingenuity helicopter.
Ingenuity traveled to Mars attached to the Perseverance rover, but NASA deployed the drone a few weeks ago after finding an acceptable makeshift airfield. This place is now known as Wright Brothers Field in recognition of this monumental feat of engineering. So far, Ingenuity has performed three test flights to Mars, including one on April 25 that featured higher altitude and side-to-side movement.
NASA is still reviewing the data collected on the most recent flight and has shared the incredible aerial photo from April 27. You might not notice it at first, but the Perseverance rover can be seen in the upper left corner of the frame. According to NASA, this photo was taken while Ingenuity was 85 meters from Perseverance. He was able to see the rover because this third test saw the drone climb to an altitude of 16.5 feet (5 meters). While the helicopter traveled 100 meters during the test, NASA did not let it get too close to the rover.
Ingenuity does not contain any major scientific instruments, and its camera hardware is limited. This is a technological demonstration, a late addition to the Perseverance mission. However, future missions to Mars could benefit from this first step towards powered flight on the Red Planet. Ingenuity has not only shown that theft is possible, but it also uses standard hardware such as a Snapdragon 801 smartphone processor.
Oh hey, here I am! I never thought I’d be the subject of another photographer on Mars. Great capture by the #MarsHelicopter team.
– NASA’s Mars Rover Perseverance (@NASAPersevere) April 28, 2021
As demonstration equipment running unreinforced components, NASA doesn’t expect ingenuity to last long on the Red Planet. In fact, the drone’s flight window closes quickly. NASA hopes to complete two more tests before May, when the team will focus on persistence. In final tests, Ingenuity could fly up to 600 meters, which would take a rover like Perseverance over four hours if it drove it all at once. Of course, NASA would never tell him to do that. Hopefully, the helicopter’s latest flights provide footage that is at least as cool as this aerial photo of its robotic companion.