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What happens on Mars, stays on Mars? NASA helicopter's mysterious damage uncovered in hi-res

Graphic illustration of Ingenuitys flight on Mars

The mission of Ingenuity – NASA’s technology demonstrator, which landed on Mars in 2021 onboard the rover Perseverance – had officially ended in late January after an incident that caused the blades of two rotors to suffer serious damage.

The damage was indirectly visible from Ingenuity’s onboard cameras. However, to see the full extent of the damage, we needed the photographs from a third-person point of view. And this Sunday, we have finally got them.

As caught on X (Twitter) by Simeon Schmauß, a German student of GeoVisual design at Hochschule München, rover Perseverance captured high-resolution images of Ingenuity using the SuperCam RMI instrument. The imagery is much more telling than previous photographs taken by the rover’s lower-resolution Mastcam-Z.

We could see the helicopter thanks to Schmauß’s skillful image processing, putting together a mosaic of multiple SuperCam RMI (Remote Micro-Imager) photographs. The imagery revealed that multiple rotors’ tips suffered damage while one blade was broken off completely.

One of the wide mosaics even shows the missing blade from NASA’s flying bird and the disturbance in the sand next to it.

“This is where the blade first contacted the ground after flying some 15 meters from Ingenuity. The tip of the blade appears to be clipped, just like the other blades which are still attached,” described Schmauß.

The new information sparked discussion on what had actually happened on Mars. “Interestingly, the [lost] blade has a clipped tip just like the other ones that are still attached. It makes me think that the blade clipping happened when all blades were still attached. I'm wondering if the blades may have collided with themselves because of blade flutter or oscillations caused by a hard landing,” Schmauß thinks.

“The rotor definitely came loose in the air - maybe on the way down? ‘Ginny’ then probably came close to tipping over, with the force from the remaining rotors then hitting the dune, forcing it back up for a moment, resulting in the evident bounce,” theoreticized yet another space enthusiast commenting on the findings.

However, what may have really occurred on the red planet remains a mystery. What we do know is that Ingenuity was supposed to conduct just five flights, but the tiny technology demonstrator managed to fly a whopping 72 missions instead. That’s one of the reasons why Ingenuity’s mission can be, in conclusion, seen only as a huge success.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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