NASA has shared a video that the Perseverance recorded of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s 13th flight. The flight happened on September 4, and the video gives us the best look yet at the helicopter in action. Unfortunately, due to the vast distance, the helicopter is operating away from the rover, it’s still very difficult to see it in some frames of the video. However, NASA did circle the helicopter, making it easier to keep track of.
While NASA is only now sharing the video of the 13th flight, Ingenuity is currently getting ready to perform its 16th flight. The flight is expected to happen no earlier than November 20. As NASA gears up for that flight, we get a good look at Flight 13. It lasted 160.5 seconds and is considered one of the most complex flights the helicopter has taken so far.
Flight 13 was complex because helicopters flew into varied terrain inside the Séítah geological feature to take images of a rock outcrop from multiple angles. The photos were for the rover team to use the plan a route through the area. Imaging was acquired from an altitude of 26 feet and was used in conjunction with similar images taken during Flight 12. The video of Ingenuity in action was recorded by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z and shows most of the helicopter’s flight profile.
A second video shared by NASA shows a close-up during takeoff and landing. It was made as part of a scientific observation to measure dust plumes generated by the helicopter. When it made the recordings, Perseverance was about 328 yards away, a distance of about three football fields. The two videos also highlight the key differences between the right and left cameras of Mastcam-Z.
The close-up of the landing and takeoff was captured using the right camera. The other video was recorded using the left camera, and the helicopter appears as a speck in the distance. Each time Ingenuity takes off from the Martian surface, it creates a small plume of dust that the right camera can record the motion of. After lifting off, Ingenuity rose to its maximum altitude of 26 feet and turned to line up its color camera.
After performing its alignment maneuver, the helicopter pitched over, allowing the thrust from the rotors to move it horizontally off-screen. Later in the video, Ingenuity returns to land in the same area where it took off. Its landing spot was about 39 feet from its takeoff spot. The location was changed because of a ripple of sand that the helicopter landed on when it completed Flight 12.
Another interesting aspect that the wide-angle video highlights well is how the helicopter maintained altitude during flight. Ingenuity is fitted with a laser altimeter that automatically adjusts its altitude, allowing it to climb as it approaches the ridge and then descends to remain exactly 26 feet above the surface of Mars. Flight 13 happened right before all the spacecraft on Mars went quiet during the Mars solar conjunction.
During the solar conjunction, Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the sun. As a result, NASA sends no commands to any of its spacecraft on the surface or orbiting the planet during that time. The reason for the communications blackout is that there is a chance any instructions sent during the solar conjunction could be garbled, resulting in unintended consequences.