Though Ingenuity continues to break its own records as the first powered, controlled flying machine on another planet, we haven’t had have much visual evidence of its exploits. There’s the telemetry data that NASA scientists receive on Earth, but not much in the way of photos and videos. Happily, NASA has now released the most detailed footage yet of Ingenuity in flight.
The two videos were taken during the rotorcraft’s 13th flight, which took place on September 4. The 16-second flight saw Ingenuity travel nearly 700 feet horizontally, at an altitude of 26 feet. The Perseverance rover recorded the rotorcraft’s maneuvers using its two-camera Mastcam-Z, from a distance of about 1,000 feet away.
“The value of Mastcam-Z really shines through with these video clips,” Justin Maki, deputy principal investigator for the Mastcam-Z instrument at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a NASA press release. “Even at 300 meters [984 feet] 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.”
Recently, the scientists at NASA had to program Ingenuity to move a little faster, to compensate for the thinner atmosphere on Mars as the planet’s seasons change. The helicopter’s navigation system is automated and uses artificial intelligence to constantly measure and correct for environmental variables like wind speed and the level of the ground below it.
“It’s awesome to actually get to see this [automatic correction] occur,” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, in the same release. “It reinforces the accuracy of our modeling and our understanding of how to best operate Ingenuity.”
On its 13th flight, Ingenuity took 10 images of some interesting rock outcrops on the ground as part of its ongoing scouting mission for Perseverance. The Perseverance rover is basically a rolling geologist (complete with a mini-lab), and Ingenuity, having graduated from being a mere technology demonstration, is now using its flights to locate intriguing rock deposits.
With the solar conjunction over, during which time the Sun interrupted communications between Earth and Mars, Ingenuity will begin its journey back to its first airfield. The road ahead is long for Perseverance rover, but where Ingenuity’s going, it doesn’t need roads.