NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (above center to the right) is viewed by one of the hazard cameras aboard the Perseverance rover during the helicopter’s fourth flight on April 30, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Ingenuity successfully completed its fourth flight today, and we couldn’t be happier. The helicopter took off at 10:49 a.m. EDT (7:49 a.m. PDT, or 12:33 local Mars time), climbing to an altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) before flying south approximately 436 feet (133 meters) and then back, for an 872-foot (266-meter) round trip. In total, we were in the air for 117 seconds. That’s another set of records for the helicopter, even compared to the spectacular third flight.
We also managed to capture lots of images during the flight with the color camera and with Ingenuity’s black-and-white navigation camera, which tracks surface features as it flies. Images from that navigation camera are typically used by Ingenuity’s flight controller and then thrown away unless we specifically tell the helicopter to store them for later use. During this flight, we saved even more images than we did on our previous flights: about 60 total during the last 164 feet (50 meters) before the helicopter returned to its landing site.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (upper right) using its left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rovers mast. This is one still frame from a sequence captured by the camera while taking video. This image was acquired on Apr. 30, 2021 (Sol 69) at the Local Mean Solar Time of 12:33:27. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS
Capturing images like that provides a technical challenge – another way to test Ingenuity – and provides an aerial perspective of Mars that humanity has never seen before. We’ll use these images to study the surface features of the terrain. Some of our black-and-white images were taken as stereo pairs, allowing us to test our ability to make 3D imagery of the surface and study the elevation of different sites below us. Adding this dimension to future missions could offer a broad range of scouting possibilities across regions that rovers can’t roam, close-ups that orbiters can’t provide, or ways to extend the reach of future human explorers.
But in the immediate future, we have lots of data to analyze. Ingenuity’s performance on Mars has been letter-perfect. This is an amazing time for our entire team!