On April 19, 2022, the one-year anniversary of its first flight, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter visited and took photographs of the crash website of the protecting aeroshell and parachute that helped ship it and the Perseverance rover to the Red Planet.
When the Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on February 18, 2021, it was the end result of an intricate, fiery, technological ballet. When the spacecraft hit the Martian environment at hypersonic velocity, it was protected by a polymer warmth protect and a conical aerospace shell. Once the environment slowed it right down to supersonic velocity, the most important parachute ever despatched to Mars deployed to chop its velocity additional. Finally, the shell and parachute jettisoned and a rocket-powered cradle hovered over the Martian floor and winched the rover to the bottom earlier than flying off to crash a secure distance away.
This was the identical sequence of occasions that was used to land the Curiosity rover, however Perseverance was totally different in that this was essentially the most rigorously chronicled planetary touchdown but because of banks of cameras and devices that recorded the descent, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that watched from on excessive and in addition positioned the parachute shortly afterwards.
This would have been the tip of the episode, however in April 2022 Perseverance’s cameras noticed the parachute and aeroshell laying on the Martian sands. This would have been simply an attention-grabbing footnote as a result of to succeed in the chute would have required a substantial detour, however the mission has benefited from an exceptionally fortunate break.
In April 2021, Perseverance deployed the primary plane ever to be despatched to a different planet, the Ingenuity helicopter. On April 19, it took to the red-ringed skies for a sequence of take a look at flights that had been solely anticipated to happen over roughly 30 days earlier than the little robotic craft broke down.
Instead, Ingenuity has proved to be remarkably resilient and has flown 26 instances to this point, taking over more and more formidable duties, together with scouting for the rover because it rolled over the Martian panorama.
Then, on April 19 at 11:37 am Mars time, Ingenuity was ordered to fly towards the parachute and aeroshell. During its 159-second flight, it reached an altitude of 26 ft (8 m) and lined 630 ft (192 m) to what was actually, because it wasn’t Martian, the wreckage of an alien spacecraft.
Navigating a pre-planned course, Ingenuity circled the wreckage, taking 10 photographs earlier than turning again to its designated touchdown space 246 ft (75 m) away. This brings the overall flight time of Ingenuity to a whopping 49 minutes.
According to NASA, the aim of Ingenuity’s go to is greater than historic curiosity. By learning the aeroshell and parachute, engineers hope to study extra about how nicely they survived the touchdown sequence, which may assist to make future missions safer. Already the photographs have revealed that the aeroshell struck the floor at a velocity of about 78 mph (126 km/h). More shall be realized over the approaching weeks with additional evaluation.
“Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,” mentioned JPL’s Ian Clark, former Perseverance programs engineer and now Mars Sample Return ascent section lead. “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.”