Perseverance rover releases debris shield covering Ingenuity Mars helicopter

Yesterday, NASA’s Perseverance rover released the debris shield which protected the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity. This marks the beginning of the deployment for Ingenuity; which is expected to take 10 Martian days (sols). The next major step in the process will be Perseverance driving to the center of the helipad which has been selected.

Once Perseverance reaches the center of the 10-foot by 10-foot helipad, it will unlock the Mars Helicopter delivery system which has held Ingenuity in place. Then Ingenuity will be rotated into a vertical position. The two landing legs on Ingenuity which are folded up then will be deployed into place. Perseverance will wait, charging the batteries on Ingenuity until they reach 100% before dropping it onto the Martian surface.

The First Flight

Given the rough environment on the surface of Mars, the first flight of Ingenuity will take place at 11 am local time. This is when the winds will be at their lightest. Similar to a rocket, airplane, or even drone here on Earth, Ingenuity will run through a series of preflight checks, including spinning up the rotors. Just a fraction of a second after the autonomous preflight checks have completed, Ingenuity will take flight.

Ingenuity on the belly of Perseverance, with the Debris shield on the ground. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A first simple hover will be followed by a second flight, which could include a few feet of lateral movement. If the first two flights are successful NASA will move on to a third flight where Ingenuity will travel up to 160 feet from the airfield before returning. A fourth and fifth flight could push the envelope even farther, but for any of these flights to take place, the deployment of Ingenuity has to go smoothly. Last year, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a video showing CG renderings of what the deployment process will look like on Mars.

If this process goes as planned, we can look forward to seeing photos from both Ingenuity and Perseverance, which will be stationed nearby. With new cameras on Perseverance, we may even see video of the Mars Helicopter taking flight.

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