Helicopter Ingenuity to Skim Over the Surface of Mars Today

Intrepid Mars helicopter Ingenuity is gearing up for its 13th flight today, Saturday, September 4, in what NASA engineers hope will be a “Lucky 13.” The helicopter will be skimming lower to the ground than on recent flights, capturing the Martian surface from a lower altitude to help give a different view to the drivers for its companion, the rover Perseverance.

The flight is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. ET (5:08 p.m. PT) tonight, heading over the South Seítah region — the same region it recently explored in its risky but successful 12th flight.

This image of sand dunes, boulders, and rocky outcrops of the “south séítah” region of mars’ jezero crater was captured by nasa’s ingenuity mars helicopter during its 12th flight, on aug. 16, 2021.
This image of sand dunes, boulders, and rocky outcrops of the “South Séítah” region of Mars’ Jezero Crater was captured by NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during its 12th flight, on Aug. 16, 2021. NASA/JPL-Caltech

This flight will be a little different though, as it will be focused on one particular geological structure as opposed to multiple targets. For its thirteenth outing, “the flight will again journey into the geologically intriguing South Seítah region,” NASA’s Ingenuity team lead wrote in a blog post. “However, instead of probing further into Seítah and taking pictures of multiple ridgelines and outcrops (which we did on 12), we’ll be concentrating on one particular ridgeline and its outcrops during Flight 13. We’ll also be flying at a lower altitude — 26 feet (8 meters), as opposed to the 33 feet (10 meters) during 12.”

As well as this change of altitude, the helicopter will also be capturing a different perspective by pointing its camera to the southwest instead of the previous northeast. Combining these two sets of images should help give both rover drivers and those studying Martian geology a better understanding of the surface topography.

The flight will be over a much smaller area too, as it is focusing on a particular area. On both this flight and the recent flight 12, the helicopter’s camera will take 10 pictures in total. But for flight 12, these 10 images were spread over an area of 1,476 feet (450 meters), which the helicopter covered in 170 seconds. For today’s flight, the 10 pictures will be concentrated on an area of 690 feet (210 meters), covered in around 161 seconds.

NASA also shared some statistics about the helicopter’s achievements so far, stating that it has captured a total of 72 13-megapixel color images and 1,390 black-and-white navigation camera images.

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