Mars Video Shows NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter Poking Out of Perseverance Before First Flight

NASA has released new images of the Ingenuity helicopter being lowered down to the surface of Mars.

The images have been posted individually to NASA's website gallery, but they have also been stitched together to form a short video that the space agency posted to Twitter, seen below.

Swing low, sweet helicopter...@NASAPersevere is slowly and carefully deploying the #MarsHelicopter, Ingenuity. The tech demo is currently unfolding from its stowed position and readying to safely touch down on the Martian surface. See upcoming milestones: https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/3AyaiHOH2k

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 30, 2021

The photos were released days apart, and show Ingenuity slowly unfurling from the underbelly of the Perseverance rover as it prepares to fully separate.

The images were captured by Perseverance's WATSON camera, which is positioned on the end of a long robotic arm.

Initially, Ingenuity was hidden inside Perseverance inside a protective debris shield. This was released on March 21, revealing the little helicopter.

On March 28, NASA snapped a photo of Ingenuity having extended two of its four legs as it started to slowly swing out from the underside of Perseverance. On March 29, the helicopter became vertical after rotating outward from its horizontal position, though two of its four legs were not yet extended and the robot was still attached to the rover.

NASA has not yet released any further photos after that stage, but the next steps will be to release Ingenuity and drive the rover away to a safe distance.

Ingenuity will then attempt to fly on the Martian surface using rotating blades. The experimental window will begin in early April.

Ingenuity is intended to demonstrate the technology for powered flight on another world for the first time.Its first launch will see the small helicopter take off and hover a few feet in the air for 20 to 30 seconds before landing again.

If that test is successful, the Ingenuity team will attempt longer and higher flights. NASA says the technologies used in Ingenuity could pave the way for future Mars exploration using helicopters.

Hypothetically, those future helicopters could take HD images from a viewpoint that much higher orbiting spacecraft cannot, or even transport cargo from one Mars site to another.

There are challenges, though. For one, Mars' atmosphere is only 1 percent as thick as Earth's, so Ingenuity's rotor blades will have to be much longer and spin much faster than they would need to for a helicopter of Ingenuity's size on Earth.

Engineers also have to overcome Mars' freezing -130 degrees Fahrenheit night-time temperatures and significant delays in communicating with the helicopter because Mars is so far away.

NASA hopes Ingenuity's total mission will last for 30 days, in which time it will aim to conduct at least one test flight.

Ingenuity helicopter under rover
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter extends vertically into place after being rotated outward from its horizontal position on the belly of the Perseverance rover on March 29, 2021, the 38th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS