Astronomy Picture of the Day had the news this morning, and you’ve likely already heard it anyway, but who would if I failed to cover this on my own? Two ‘Too Cools’ ago, we observed the landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars, and now we have the follow-up, so let’s do it in chronological order. The transmission time from Mars is significant, and the first information to come back was telemetry data:
Note the photo that the Ingenuity helicopter took of its own shadow. Ingenuity is just a proof-of-concept vehicle, a test, not intended or equipped for exploration, but it has a basic, monochrome still camera onboard. That, I must point out, is extremely fast, because it stopped the 2,400 RPM blades dead in the frame, no blurred shadow.
Later on, the Perseverance rover processed its video and transmitted that along, its view from a moderate distance away, where it had reversed to after dropping Ingenuity from its underside a few weeks back.
Ingenuity traveled with dead batteries, so it had to charge them with its solar panels for a while, and there was a software issue that, I thought I’d heard, was going to take a few days more than this to fix, so I was a little surprised by the news, but hey, I’ll take it. And the stability and precision are great to see, much better than I can maintain with my own quadcopter (which isn’t saying much.) And yes, you know I’m motivated to go out this afternoon and do a few flights.
It’s pretty impressive, overall: Mars’ atmosphere is much thinner than ours, making any kind of flight a serious exercise in engineering, and because of the transmission delay between Mars and Earth, all such flights have to be autonomous. Helicopters themselves are inherently unstable, requiring constant correction to maintain flight, and accomplishing this with software is pretty damn slick. So mad props (a ha ha) to NASA and the crew at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for this feat.
As a stupid aside, Metal Earth is a company that makes sheet metal models and features a lot of space-related stuff, and when I checked on a whim a few weeks back, I found that they were soon to produce a model of Perseverance and Ingenuity. I’ve purchased and assembled no small number of these myself, so I’m psyched.