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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Makes Perseverance Rover Discovery

Perseverance Rover

NASA Perseverance Rover

This week, NASA revealed that its Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently discovered the remains of what appeared to be some sort of technology alien to the planet itself. What did NASA find? Remnants of the ship that brought its own Perseverance Rover Discovery to Mars a little over one year ago.

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter surveyed both the parachute that helped the agency’s Perseverance rover land on Mars and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the rover in deep space and during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021. Engineers with the Mars Sample Return program asked whether Ingenuity could provide this perspective. What resulted were 10 aerial color images taken April 19 during Ingenuity’s Flight 26.

“NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.”

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“Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,” said JPL’s Ian Clark, former Perseverance systems engineer and now Mars Sample Return ascent phase 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.”

In the images of the upright backshell and the debris field that resulted from it impacting the surface at about 78 mph (126 kph), the backshell’s protective coating appears to have remained intact during Mars atmospheric entry. Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact. Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute – at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars – can be seen, but the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation. Several weeks of analysis will be needed for a more final verdict.

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