South Plains Astronomy Club

Observing Under The Dark West Texas Skies

The Ingenuity helicopter is a technology demonstration experiment to show that flying drones are possible in the very thin air of Mars. As a demonstration unit, it is very simple and only carries cameras, inertial sensors, and a rangefinder to keep it as light as possible.

Ingenuity's basic anatomy
Ingenuity’s basic anatomy

Ingenuity was dropped from the Perseverance rover in April after surviving the harrowing trip to Mars. It was stored horizontally inside a snug cover to keep it safe during the landing process. Once the rover reached a suitably flat space for testing the helicopter, the rover dropped the protective cover, unfolded the helicopter, and gently dropped it a few inches to the ground.

Ingenuity hanging under Perseverance prior to release and touchdown.

Ingenuity has had nine successful flights so far. They started with a simple vertical flight to hover and landing in the same spot but gradually progressed to the ninth one-way flight of 2,050 feet.

Ingenuity lifting off for the first vertical flight.

It has had a few hiccups along the way, but it moved from a technology demonstration to an operational test as a scout for the Perseverance rover. Once again, NASA has done the impossible!

Perseverance and Ingenuity travels so far.
Perseverance and Ingenuity paths so far.

Tom Heisey gave the presentation at this month’s club meeting (PDF download) that covers the flights and findings so far. It has links to the photos, videos, and source pages in the speaker’s notes if you want to learn more.