Incredible Mars Video Shows NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter Flying Over Martian Surface

As the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter prepares for its next flight over the landscape of the Red Planet, NASA has released a video that shows one of its recent ventures in unprecedented detail.

The footage, captured by the Perseverance Rover on September 4, shows the rotor vehicle's thirteenth flight over Mars' barren vista, presenting it in action like never before.

The primary mission of Perseverance and Ingenuity is to search for traces of ancient life that may have existed on Mars many millions of years ago.

Perseverance caught the images with its two-camera Mastcam-Z: one clip shows the take-off and landing of the four-pound rotorcraft, while the other shows its flight profile as it travels over the martian surface.

The lift-offs of the robotic Mars Ingenuity Helicopter, which landed on Mars alongside the Preserverance Rover in February 2021, represented the first powered and controlled flights of a craft created by humanity in the skies of an alien world.

The latest video from NASA shows off more than the copter's flying ability, however, the footage also acts as an impressive demonstration of its rover partner's technology.

"The value of Mastcam-Z really shines through with these video clips. Even at 300 meters away, we get a magnificent closeup of takeoff and landing through Mastcam-Z's right eye," deputy principal investigator for the Mastcam-Z instrument at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Justin Maki, said.

"And while the helicopter is little more than a speck in the wide view taken through the left eye, it gives viewers a good feel for the size of the environment that Ingenuity is exploring."

While this isn't the Mars Helicopter's first, second, or even third flight over Mars, flight 13 turned out to be a particularly tricky one for ingenuity. The sojourn, which lasted just over 160 seconds, was complicated because it involved the helicopter flying varied terrain within the Séítah geological feature.

Séítah is made up of ridges and outcrops in a Jezero Crater, an ancient lake bed leftover from a period at least four billion years ago when liquid water was abundant on the Martian surface.

Flying above Séítah at an altitude of 26 feet, the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter collected images of a rocky outcrop from various angles.

The images will be used by the Perseverance Rover team to gain insights into the Jezero Crater and, specifically, into the geological processes that formed the characteristics of Séítah.

"We took off from the crater floor and flew over an elevated ridgeline before dipping into Séítah," said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity Chief Pilot, JPL.

"Since the helicopter's navigation filter prefers flat terrain, we programmed in a waypoint near the ridgeline, where the helicopter slows down and hovers for a moment. Our flight simulations indicated that this little 'breather' would help the helicopter keep track of its heading in spite of the significant terrain variations. It does the same on the way back."

Studying Séítah is an important part of our exploration of Mars. As an exposure of the oldest geologic unit on the Jezero crater floor, the feature contains olivine and hydrated minerals that record volcanism and other geological processes that occurred on ancient Mars.

Evaluating when and how these minerals were deposited could improve our understanding of the geologic evolution of the region of Mars that Perseverance is exploring.

Carried to Mars by Preserverance, Ingenuity was "released" by the rover when it reached a suitable airfield location. After that, the rotorcraft made its first flight on April 19, 2021, during which it climbed to an altitude of roughly 10 feet off the surface of Mars.

After hovering briefly, it returned to the surface of Mars. Though short the demonstration was an important milestone in our exploration of space, showing that a rotor-based craft can pilot through the thin atmosphere of Mars.

Following Flight 13 the Ingenuity copter took a break with the rest of the Mars surface vehicles, including Perseverance, waiting for Mars to pass from around the opposite side of the sun from the earth.

During this annual event known as the Mars solar conjunction, which this year lasted from October 2 to October 16, communications from Earth to the Red Planet are blocked, meaning instructions can't be sent to the Mars rovers.

Ingenuity is now prepping to take to the skies of Mars for the sixteenth time which will happen no earlier than Saturday, November 20.

Grip concluded: "It's awesome to actually get to see this occur, and it reinforces the accuracy of our modeling and our understanding of how to best operate Ingenuity."

Mars Ingenuity Helicopter
An illustration shows the Mars Ingenuity Helicopter as it takes to the skies of Mars with its partner in science the Perseverance Rover in the distance. NASA has released new footage that shows the helicopter in action in unprecedented detail. JPL-Caltech/NASA