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On July 30, 2020, the Mars 2020 mission took off from the Cape Canaveral base for a trip of more than six months to the red planet. The fateful moment arrived on February 18: the release of the Perseverance rover, which was carrying the Ingenuity helicopter. During its descent, the spacecraft slows down by means of a huge parachute, then the rover descends gently by means of a “flying crane” (the celestial crane). The device has just flown over the area where the remains of the equipment are located, which allowed the entire operation to be carried out.
During the descent, the parachute and part of the rear hull of the rover dropped to an altitude of approximately 2000 m; they hit the Martian soil at about 126 km / h. After leaving the rover properly, the crane flew away from the landing area and then continued flying until it ran out of fuel. Earlier this month, Perseverance had already captured an image in the distance showing the remains of the parachute that had slowed the space probe during the descent.
A recent flyover of the area by the Ingenuity helicopter now offers a closer and more detailed view of these remnants of equipment. Mission officials are very interested in this waste because they can provide information on the performance of different components during the rover’s atmospheric entry, descent, and landing. The data collected will be used to better prepare future missions.
More than six kilometers and 49 minutes flight
While Ingenuity’s initial mission was to make five flights into Martian air, the performance of the small flying machine prompted NASA to expand its mission far beyond expectations. Thus, the helicopter has carried out several reconnaissance missions of the rover, during which it flies farther and farther (up to more than 600 meters), longer and longer. It was during his 26th flight, on April 19, exactly one year after his first flight, that he approached the wreckage of the equipment that allowed him to land.
To reach the area, Ingenuity traveled just over 190 meters, flying at an altitude of eight meters; the flight lasted 159 seconds. The aircraft then moved around the ruins in order to take the scene from various angles; it finally flew 360 meters that day, with a total of 6.2 kilometers and 49 minutes of flight time since its entry into service. The machine had to do a lot of maneuvers to take these photos, but given the feats achieved during the previous flights, the team was quite confident.
The images are stunning: you can clearly see the parachute, as well as the cone-shaped rear casing that protected the rover during its fiery descent to the Martian surface. In all, the small helicopter was able to capture 10 color images of the area. ” Every time we are in the air, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a vision that no previous planetary mission could achieve. says Teddy Tzanetos, leader of the engineering team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Thanks to the images, the mission team was able to see that the protective coating of the back shell apparently remained intact during the entry into the atmosphere of Mars. Many of the 80 high-strength lines that connected the rear housing to the parachute are visible and also appear intact. Not far from the hull, you can see about a third of the parachute, covered in dust: with a diameter of 21.5 meters, it is the largest parachute ever deployed on Mars. The wing shows no signs of damage due to the supersonic airflow. NASA specifies, however, that further analysis will be required before a final verdict can be established.
Valuable technical data
Thanks to the rover’s multiple cameras, Perseverance’s landing on Mars is “the best documented in history,” said Ian Clark, a former Perseverance systems engineer. But the images of Ingenuity are a kind of icing on the cake. These close-up aerial views, with a high level of detail, allow valuable data to be collected, in particular on the strength of the equipment used. Remember that when entering the Martian atmosphere, which takes place at almost 20,000 km / h, the machines are tested: they have to withstand extreme speeds and temperatures. The information transmitted by the rotary will allow to develop even more resistant machines.
NASA is especially thinking about its future mission, Return of the Mars sample, which, as its name suggests, aims to return to Earth samples of Martian soil, previously taken and collected by Perseverance. This mission, developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency, will involve two spacecraft: a rover in charge of retrieving the samples, then a rocket that will have to take them to a ship that has been left in orbit. The release is scheduled for 2026.
Meanwhile, Perseverance continues its mission: it has just reached the gates of the Jezero Crater Delta, an area several miles wide where an ancient river flowed into the lake that filled the crater. The rover will have to take a new series of samples there, which may reveal clues to old microbial life. The device will be used, among other things, to explore the area in order to define the best routes for your companion.