NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter wasn’t content to just prove it could fly on Mars. It’s now a valuable contributor to the Perseverance rover’s mission to explore the red planet and seek signs of ancient microbial life.
For its 12th flight, the rotorcraft will give the rover team a valuable aerial view of geology that Perseverance may want to check out.
The chopper is eyeing a region called South Seitah, an area that’s home to boulders and rocky outcrops that are of interest to the Perseverance rover team. “This flight will be ambitious. Flying over Seitah South carries substantial risk because of the varied terrain,” Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos wrote in a status update on Sunday.
The helicopter’s navigation system was designed to work with relatively flat terrain, so making sense out of rougher landscapes can be a challenge. The rotorcraft has, but survived them all so far.
Ingenuity’s flight was targeted for early Monday, but it can take time to get confirmation of the flight back from Mars.
If all goes well, Perseverance will meet up with Ingenuity in the coming days. The helicopter’s reconnaissance work should help the rover team decide what spots to check out once it’s there.
Ingenuity as a mission has been all about risks and rewards. It was an unknown whether the helicopter would even work on Mars. It not only works, it’s also showing how an aerial vehicle can act as a valuable scout for a ground-based rover.
“When we choose to accept the risks associated with such a flight, it is because of the correspondingly high rewards,” Tzanetos said. “Knowing that we have the opportunity to help the Perseverance team with science planning by providing unique aerial footage is all the motivation needed.”
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