The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has previously impressed with its capabilities to detect the Perseverance rover and even the Chinese Zhurong probe. But what about smaller objects? Now the powerful camera of the high-resolution orbiter (HiRISE) could surprise even more. The device with the help of the camera was able to see the brave fellow traveler Perseverance — the Ingenuity helicopter.
Ingenuity is about the size of a small box 1.2 m wide. The helicopter is tiny compared to the Perseverance rover, which is much larger, the size of a car. Therefore, the aircraft is much more difficult to detect from a height. But MRO succeeded. In the recently published image below, we can see an aircraft on the surface of Mars, about 290 km below MRO. Two hundred meters to the east of Ingenuity is Perseverance, which is easier to identify.
Records of flights on Mars
Since reaching Mars in February 2021 and two months after its historic first flight, Ingenuity has made 22 more flights, and even more are planned. The Martian helicopter was also the first heavier than air aircraft in the history of science to make a controlled flight in the atmosphere of another planet. To date, its longest single flight was just over 631 m, and the record time of continuous flight was 169.5 seconds.
More aerial missions are planned for Ingenuity, as NASA uses a helicopter to assist with Perseverance research and at the same time collects data to help engineers develop a next-generation Martian drone.
Now, Ingenuity is located on the fractured rock of the so-called Maaz formation, which is believed to be of volcanic origin. The helicopter helps the NASA rover explore the surface of the Red Planet in search of evidence of ancient microbial life, and also collects rock samples to return to Earth. There’s still a chance that other discoveries made by the rover would help the aerospace administration better plan the first manned mission to Mars. Although the exact date for this particular project has not yet been set.
Recall that earlier exciting photos of MRO from Mars told about the mysterious past of the planet.