Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Just over one year ago, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed safely on the surface of Mars. Since then, the rover and NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which took the journey together, have been hard at work on the surface of Mars.
In April 2021, the Ingenuity helicopter took its first flight in what was meant to be only a 30-day technology demonstration to see if flight was possible in the thin Martian atmosphere. Over the coming weeks, Ingenuity took four more flights, each time going a bit farther, a bit faster and a bit higher. After those first test flights, Ingenuity’s mission morphed from technology demonstration to operations, helping Perseverance traverse the surface by scouting the terrain ahead.
Ingenuity sailed through its initial campaign and has just kept on flying ever since. One year later, the helicopter has 25 flights under its belt and is still going strong.
“It’s still sort of a surreal feeling,” said Ingenuity Chief Engineer Jaakko Karras. “I think we would have all said that we’d consider ourselves lucky if we could get just the one flight and land safely, and extremely lucky if we could get to the end of that initial 30-sol tech-demo window with five flights under our belts. To be here now, though, a full Earth year later, having flown 25 flights, over 45 minutes spent in the Martian sky over all kinds of different terrain that we never planned for, never designed for — it’s pretty incredible.”
The Ingenuity team has been pushing the helicopter’s limits during its extended mission. For example, on its 25th flight, which took place on April 8th, Ingenuity covered 2,310 feet of ground and reached a top speed of 12.3 mph, both personal bests.
The Perseverance rover is being powered by batteries manufactured by EaglePicher Technologies in Joplin, Missouri. Two of the company’s thermal batteries powered the spacecraft during the entry, descent and landing stages. The rover’s main power system consists of two EaglePicher batteries that will function independently from the other, in case of failure.
Perseverance is the largest rover to date sent by NASA to the surface of Mars. It has a 7-foot robotic arm that can drill and grip to collect rock samples. It has nearly two dozen cameras as well as two microphones that allowed us to hear the red planet for the first time. On board are 43 sample tubes that are being used to store rock and soil samples as NASA readies a follow-up mission to collect those samples, with the goal of bringing them back to Earth.
A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Missouri has a long history of powering NASA’s space program including the InSight Lander, which is currently on the surface of Mars, NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex spacecraft and the International Space Station. And Missouri has been a key part of the U.S. space program since the 1950s driving the development of the Mercury and Gemini space programs and the CST-100 Starliner.