NASA Ingenuity Helicopter Captured Streaking Over Mars Landscape In Detailed Video

ingenuity flyer
NASA's Mars Perseverance rover captured its aviator sibling, Ingenuity, in incredible detail as it completed its thirteenth flight duty on the red planet. The video captured on September 4th of this year is the most detailed footage of Ingenuity in action thus far.

Ingenuity is NASA's rotorcraft that hitched a ride to Mars on the belly of the Perseverance rover. The pair launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020, and landed on the red planet February 18, 2021. The Mars Helicopter is a demonstration and test of controlled flight on another planet. Its first flight was on April 19, 2021 as it climbed to around 10 feet (3 meters) off the surface of Mars and hovered briefly as it completed a turn and then returned to the ground. 

The helicopter was built to be lightweight and durable to both make the trip to Mars while stored under the rover and to endure the harsh Martian environment once it arrived. Ingenuity has a weight of around 4 pounds on Earth and about 1.5 pounds on Mars. It had to be powerful enough to lift off the surface while in the atmosphere of Mars which is incredibly thin—1% the density of Earth's. It was designed and built to fly for up to 90 seconds at a time and reach distances of nearly 980 feet (300 meters) at a height of about 10 to 15 feet off the ground. All of this is done on its own with minimal commands from those back on Earth sent ahead of time.

The footage that was captured by Perseverance was Ingenuity's thirteenth flight. The images were taken by rover's two camera eyes, Mastcam-Z. Justin Maki, deputy principal investigator for the Mastcam-Z instrument at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California stated, "The value of Mastcam-Z really shines through with these video clips. Even at 300 meters (328 yards) away, we get a magnificent closeup of takeoff and landing through Mastcam-Z's 'right eye.' And while the helicopter is little more than a speck in the wide view taken through the 'left eye,' it gives viewers a good feel for the size of the environment that Ingenuity is exploring."

The September 4th flight lasted 160.5 seconds and was one of Ingenuity's most complicated to date. The flight included flying into varied terrain of the "Seitah" geological feature while taking images of an outcrop from several angles for the Earth based rover team. The images that Ingenuity captured at an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters), go along with images taken during its 12th flight which has given valuable insight for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers.

During the footage captured by Perseverance, Ingenuity can be seen using its laser altimeter as it adjusted to the elevation of the terrain below while heading northeast toward the ridgeline. The helicopter is seen automatically adjusting as it climbed slightly while approaching the ridge and then descending once again to maintain its height above the surface of 26 feet (8 meters). Ingenuity is then seen flying out of view as it captured the images of the outcrop before coming back into view and returning to the Martian surface.

Ingenuity is currently preparing for its sixteenth flight that will occur no sooner than November 20th. As it continues to work alongside Perseverance to collect more data about the conditions and terrain of Mars, there is certainly going to be more stunning footage sent back for all of us stuck here on Earth to enjoy. The hope is that one day all of the data that is being collected by this dynamic duo will enable manned missions to the red planet in the foreseeable future.