Final images of Ingenuity reveal an entire blade broke off the helicopter

Enlarge / An image of Ingenuity captured by Perseverance‘s SuperCam RMI instrument.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/Simeon Schmauß

It has now been several weeks since NASA’s tenacious helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, made its final flight above the red planet.

This happened last month. On January 6, Ingenuity flew 40 feet (12 meters) skyward but then made an unplanned early landing after just 35 seconds. Twelve days later, operators intended to troubleshoot the vehicle with a quick up-and-down test. Data from the vehicle indicated that it ascended to 40 feet again during this test, but then communications were ominously lost at the end of the flight.

On January 20, NASA reestablished communications with the helicopter, but the space agency declared an end to its flying days after an image of the vehicle’s shadow showed that at least one of its blades had sustained minor damage. This capped an end to a remarkable mission during which Ingenuity exceeded all expectations.

During a news conference to discuss the end of the mission, NASA officials said they may never know exactly what happened during Ingenuity‘s final two ultimately fatal flights. But thanks to Perseverance, the rover that brought Ingenuity to the Martian surface and helped relay communications back to Earth, engineers picked up a powerful clue this past weekend.

Finding a missing blade

The rover is now moving away from the helicopter and bound for other scientifically interesting vistas. After recently getting to within about 1,500 feet (450 meters) of Ingenuity, Perseverance likely will never be as close again. However, as it was moving away, the rover turned its SuperCam Remote Micro-Imager toward the helicopter for the final time. Those images, captured this weekend, were sent back to Earth on Sunday. A German design student, Simeon Schmauß, processed some of these images to form a mosaic showing the helicopter and its surroundings in Neretva Vallis, an ancient channel through which water once flowed.

A broken blade in an ancient channel on Mars.
Enlarge / A broken blade in an ancient channel on Mars.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/Simeon Schmauß

The new images are remarkable in that they reveal Ingenuity more clearly than before and show that one rotor blade was completely broken off. Additional sleuthing revealed that this blade lay about 15 meters away from Ingenuity on the red Martian sands, apparently winging away from the helicopter prior to or during a landing of the vehicle on its final flight last month.

This additional data will undoubtedly help the engineers and scientists who flew the helicopter to piece together its final moments—and quite possibly make the design of future flying vehicles on Mars and other worlds more robust.

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