Mars helicopter Ingenuity: Photos show rotor thrown meters away

The rotor in one of Perseverance’s first images

(Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/heise online)

The crashed Mars helicopter Ingenuity has apparently lost a complete rotor, which is lying on the ground meters away from the device. This is shown by the device’s best images to date, which were taken by the Perseverance rover several hundred meters away. The photos, which are freely available on the Internet, were edited by German student Simeon Schmauß, who shared his results on Mastodon.


The images from the SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager show the small helicopter and a rotor that is somewhat distant. Based on these images, the broken component, which apparently flew far away, can also be located on the images sent by Ingenuity weeks ago.

Perseverance took the photos last weekend, but there is no statement from NASA yet the photos automatically posted on the Internet. Schmauß writes about his post-processing, so that the damage to the helicopter itself becomes visible. The broken tips of the rotors can be clearly seen. You can also see a turbulence in the sand right next to the thrown rotor: the part could have landed there before it finally came to rest. Schmauß estimates that there is about 15 m between Ingenuity and the rotor. This also seems to be missing the point.

Based on the images, further speculation can now be made about how Ingenuity’s last flight ended. The helicopter flew for the 72nd and final time on January 18th. After the small aircraft had ended the previous flight with an emergency landing, it was only supposed to fly up and not move to the side. As planned, the helicopter reached a height of 12 m and then hovered for 4.5 seconds before beginning to descend again. Contact was then broken one meter above the ground and could not be restored until the next day. It then became clear that at least two rotors hit the ground and were damaged. It was not yet known that one was thrown away.

The short flight, crash and rotor damage occurred outside Perseverance’s field of view. He first had to continue on his planned route in order to rediscover the helicopter. This was achieved at the beginning of February, when the first photos arrived on Earth. The head of the Ingenuity team previously announced that the small helicopter should collect as much data as possible to provide information about its condition. Since then, he has been diligently photographing the shadows of his rotors to shed light on their condition. Apart from the broken rotors it works perfectly. Ingenuity will remain within radio range of Perseverance for a while. It is needed as a relay for communication.

Ingenuity landed with Perseverance in early 2021 and was scheduled to take off on the Red Planet five times. NASA also wanted to pave the way for follow-up missions. The helicopter was the first device to take off from another celestial body. Because it worked so well, the helicopter was allowed to accompany the main mission from then on. Ingenuity explored the area for Perseverance and repeatedly flew ahead of the rover. With a total of 72 flights, the device far exceeded expectations.


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