NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history just over a week ago when it became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet.
The 4-pound, 19-inch-tall flying machine arrived on the red planet in February 2021, attached to the belly of the Perseverance Mars rover.
Since its historic flight, Ingenuity has taken a further two flights, with at least two more planned in the coming days.
The flights have been captured on video by one of the many cameras attached to Perseverance, which is currently parked a short distance from the helicopter. But Ingenuity is carrying a camera, too, and on its third flight on Sunday, April 25, the aircraft snapped a photo looking back at Perseverance.
NASA has just tweeted the photo, challenging space fans to find the car-sized rover in the image. When it captured the picture, Ingenuity was flying at an altitude of 5 meters and was around 85 meters from the rover, so at first it may be hard to spot …
I spy with my little eye…a rover.????
See if you can spot @NASAPersevere in this image taken by the #MarsHelicopter during its third flight on April 25, 2021. Ingenuity was flying at an altitude of 16 ft (5 m) and ~279 ft (~85 m) from the rover at the time. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/krf1jBs3cY
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 28, 2021
Getting an aircraft airborne on Mars is a challenging exercise as the Martian atmosphere is only about 1% of the density at Earth’s surface, meaning it’s much more difficult to achieve lift.
For Ingenuity to get off the ground, it had to spin its four carbon-fiber blades — arranged into two rotors — at around 2,500 revolutions per minute (rpm), much faster than the approximately 500 rpm used by helicopters on Earth.
In its first Mars flight, Ingenuity climbed to 3 meters above the ground, hovered briefly, performed a turn, and then landed.
The next two flights were more complex, involving higher altitudes and maneuvers across the Martian surface instead of a simple hover. The next two flights are expected to be even more challenging.
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter is a technology demonstration for testing powered flight on another world for the first time. A more advanced design could allow future missions to survey the Martian surface from a close distance, passing over rocky terrain that ground-based rovers would find hard to navigate. It won’t put rovers like Perseverance out of a job, but such an aircraft would certainly be a useful tool for future planetary missions.