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NASA’s Mars drone captures cool shots of rover landing gear

NASA’s Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has captured some amazing images showing the landing gear of the spacecraft that delivered both itself and the Perseverance rover to the martian surface in February 2021.

Specifically, the image below shows the discarded backshell (left) and the supersonic parachute (far right). NASA’s drone-like aircraft snapped the photos from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters) during its 26th Mars flight on April 19, 2022.

The landing gear from Perseverance's descent to Mars in 2021.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

With Ingenuity attached to its underbelly, NASA’s Perseverance rover set down on Mars in dramatic fashion last year, with the final moments of the descent captured in high-definition video.

The rover’s parachute and backshell were jettisoned at about 1.3 miles (2.1 km) above the martian surface before hitting the ground at around 78 mph (126 kph). NASA points out that many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute look to be intact, adding: “Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute — at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars — can be seen, but the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation.” The smashed backshell, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well.

NASA engineers instructed Ingenuity to photograph the components from an aerial perspective in the hope that the images would offer insight into their performance during the rover’s entry, descent, and landing. Gathered data could assist those working on the upcoming Mars Sample Return mission, which will deploy a similar landing procedure.

“NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said this week. “Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.”

The landing gear from Perseverance's descent to Mars in 2021.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s helicopter made history in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet.

To date, the four-pound, 19-inch-high vehicle has achieved 27 separate flights above the martian surface. Earlier this month, the groundbreaking aircraft set a new speed record of 12.3 mph (5.5 meters per second) while covering a record distance of 708.4 meters. Inegnuity’s longest single flight lasted 169.5 seconds, achieved during a mission last summer.

Having completed a series of challenging test flights during the first few months of its deployment, NASA’s helicopter is now assisting the Perseverance rover as it searches for evidence of ancient microbial life on the distant planet. The aircraft’s tasks include mapping the martian surface, scouting for locations of scientific interest, and searching for the most efficient routes for the ground-based rover to take.

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