|Part of Mars 2020|
|Type||Extraterrestrial autonomous UAV helicopter|
|Serial no.||IGY (civil registration)|
|Manufacturer||Jet Propulsion Laboratory|
|Dimensions||121 cm × 49 cm (48 in × 19 in)|
|Dry mass||1.8 kilograms (4.0 lb)|
|Power||6 Solar-charged Sony VTC-4 Li ion batteries; typical engine input power: 350 watt|
|Location||Jezero crater, Mars|
|Flight time||57 minutes, 46 seconds|
|Travelled||7.36 km (4.57 mi) on Mars as of 17 September 2022[update]|
Ingenuity, nicknamed Ginny, is a small robotic coaxial rotor helicopter operating on Mars as part of NASA's Mars 2020 mission along with the Perseverance rover, which landed on February 18, 2021. Two months later, on April 19, Ingenuity successfully completed the first powered controlled extraterrestrial flight by an aircraft—taking off vertically, hovering, and landing, for a flight duration of 39.1 seconds. As of its 32nd flight, on September 18, 2022, it remained flightworthy for 517 days after its first Martian flight. Ingenuity's 25th successful flight, which occurred on April 8, 2022, saw the helicopter set new records for highest speed and distance traveled during a single flight.
Ingenuity was designed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in collaboration with AeroVironment, Inc., NASA's Ames Research Center and Langley Research Center. Other prominent contributors were Lockheed Martin Space and SolAero. Its rotors measure 122 cm (4 ft), and its entire body is 49 cm (19 in) tall. Its parallelepiped fuselage measures 13.6 cm × 19.5 cm × 16.3 cm (5.4 in × 7.7 in × 6.4 in), with four landing legs of 38.4 cm (15.1 in) each. It is operated by solar-charged batteries that power dual counter-rotating rotors mounted coaxially one above the other. During its 30-day technology demonstration, It was intended to fly up to five times at altitudes ranging from 3–5 m (10–16 ft) for up to 90 seconds each. The expected lateral range was exceeded in the third flight, and the flight duration was exceeded in the fourth. The flights proved its ability to fly in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars, over a hundred million miles from Earth, without direct human control. Because radio signals take between 5–20 minutes to travel between Earth and Mars—depending on planetary positions—Ingenuity must operate autonomously, performing maneuvers planned, scripted and transmitted to it by JPL.
After the brief demonstration phase, JPL began more flights as operational demonstrations, to show how aerial scouting could benefit exploration of Mars and other worlds. In its operational role, Ingenuity is observing areas of interest for possible examination by the Perseverance rover. The helicopter's performance and resilience greatly exceeded expectations, enabling it to make flights for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022. In March 2022, NASA announced that it would continue to fly Ingenuity through at least September.
Ingenuity travelled to Mars attached to the underside of Perseverance, which touched down at the Octavia E. Butler Landing site in the 28 mi (45 km) wide Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. The helicopter was deployed to the surface on April 3, 2021, and Perseverance drove approximately 100 m (330 ft) away to allow the drone a safe "buffer zone" in which to make its first flight. Success was confirmed three hours later in a livestreaming TV feed from JPL Mission Control. On its fourth flight, on April 30, 2021, Ingenuity became the first interplanetary spacecraft whose sound was recorded by another interplanetary spacecraft, Perseverance.
Ingenuity carries a piece of fabric from the wing of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Wright Brothers' airplane used in the first controlled powered heavier-than-air flight on Earth. Ingenuity's initial take-off and landing area is named Wright Brothers Field as a tribute. Before Ingenuity, the first flight of any kind on a planet beyond Earth was an unpowered balloon flight on Venus by the Soviet Vega 1 spacecraft in 1985.
|Rotor speed||2400–2700 rpm|
|Blade tip speed||<0.7 Mach|
|Originally planned operational time||1 to 5 flights within 30 sols|
|Flight time||Up to 167 seconds per flight|
|Maximum range, flight||704 m (2,310 ft)|
|Maximum range, radio||1,000 m (3,300 ft)|
|Maximum altitude||12 m (39 ft)|
|Maximum possible speed|
|Battery capacity||35–40 Wh (130–140 kJ)|
The lower gravity of Mars (about a third of Earth's) only partially offsets the thinness of the 95% carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars, making it much harder for an aircraft to generate adequate lift. The planet's atmospheric density is about 1⁄100 that of Earth's at sea level, or about the same as 87,000 ft (27,000 m), an altitude never reached by existing helicopters. This density reduces even more in Martian winters. To keep Ingenuity aloft, its specially shaped blades of enlarged size must rotate between 2400 and 2900 rpm, or about 10 times faster than what is needed on Earth. The helicopter uses contra-rotating coaxial rotors about 1.2 m (4 ft) in diameter, each controlled by a separate swashplate that can affect both collective and cyclic pitch.
Ingenuity has two cameras: a downward-looking black-and-white navigation camera (NAV), and a color camera, for terrain images for return to Earth (RTE). Although it is an aircraft, it was constructed to spacecraft specifications to endure the acceleration and vibrations during launch. It also includes radiation-resistant systems capable of operating in Mars's environment. Mars's magnetic field precludes the use of a compass for navigation, so Ingenuity relies on different sensors grouped in two assemblies. All sensors are commercial off-the-shelf units.
The Upper Sensor Assembly, with associated vibration isolation elements, is mounted on the mast close to the vehicle's center-of-mass to minimize the effects of angular rates and accelerations. It consists of a cellphone-grade Bosch BMI-160 Inertial measurement unit (IMU); and an inclinometer (Murata SCA100T-D02), which is used only on the ground prior to flight to calibrate the IMU accelerometers biases. The Lower Sensor Assembly consists of an altimeter (Garmin LIDAR Lite v3), both cameras, and a secondary IMU, all mounted directly on the Electronics Core Module (not on the mast). The down-facing Omnivision OV7251 camera supports visual odometry, where images are processed to produce navigation solutions that calculate the helicopter's position, velocity, attitude, and other variables.
Ingenuity uses a 425×165 mm solar panel to recharge its batteries, which are six Sony Li-ion cells with 35–40 Wh (130–140 kJ) of energy capacity (nameplate capacity of 2 Ah). Flight duration is not constrained by the available power, but by the motors heating up 1 °C every second.
The helicopter uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with a Linux operating system. Among other functions, it controls the visual navigation algorithm via a velocity estimate derived from terrain features tracked with the navigation camera. The Qualcomm processor is connected to two flight-control microcontroller units (MCUs) to perform necessary flight-control functions.
The telecommunication system consists of two identical radios with monopole antennae for data exchange between the helicopter and rover. The radio link utilizes the low-power Zigbee communication protocols, implemented via 914 MHz SiFlex 02 chipsets mounted in both vehicles. The communication system is designed to relay data at 250 kbit/s over distances of up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft). The antenna on the helicopter's solar panel weighs 4 grams and can communicate equally in all directions.
The history of the Mars Helicopter team dates back to 2012, when MiMi Aung was leading then JPL director Charles Elachi on a tour of the Autonomous Systems Division. Looking at the drones demonstrating onboard navigation algorithms in one of the labs, Elachi asked, "Hey, why don't we do that on Mars?" Engineer Bob Balaram briefed Elachi about feasibility, and a week later Elachi told him, "Okay, I've got some study money for you". By January 2015 NASA agreed to fund the development of a full-size model, which came to be known as the "risk reduction" vehicle. As project manager, Aung assembled a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and technicians leveraging all of NASA's expertise.
The JPL team was never larger than 65 full-time-equivalent employees, but program workers at AeroVironment and NASA AMES and Langley research centers brought the total to 150. Team members include:
On June 15, 2021, the team behind Ingenuity was named the 2021 winner of the John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr. Award for Space Exploration from the Space Foundation.
NASA's JPL and AeroVironment published the conceptual design in 2014 for a scout helicopter to accompany a rover. By mid-2016, $15 million was being requested to continue development of the helicopter. By December 2017, engineering models of the vehicle had been tested in a simulated martian atmosphere and models were undergoing testing in the Arctic, but its inclusion in the mission had not yet been approved or funded. The United States federal budget, announced in March 2018, provided $23 million for the helicopter for one year, and it was announced on May 11, 2018, that the helicopter could be developed and tested in time to be included in the Mars 2020 mission. The helicopter underwent extensive flight-dynamics and environment testing, and was mounted on the underside of the Perseverance rover in August 2019. NASA spent about $80 million to build Ingenuity and about $5 million to operate the helicopter.
In April 2020, the vehicle was named Ingenuity by Vaneeza Rupani, a girl in the 11th grade at Tuscaloosa County High School in Northport, Alabama, who submitted an essay into NASA's "Name the Rover" contest. Known in planning stages as the Mars Helicopter Scout, or simply the Mars Helicopter, the nickname Ginny later entered use in parallel to the parent rover Perseverance being affectionately referred to as Percy. Its full-scale engineering model for testing on Earth - Earth Copter and unofficially Terry.
Ingenuity was designed to be a technology demonstrator by JPL to assess whether such a vehicle could fly safely. Before it was built, launched and landed, scientists and managers expressed hope that helicopters could provide better mapping and guidance that would give future mission controllers more information to help with travel routes, planning and hazard avoidance. Based on the performance of previous rovers through Curiosity, it was assumed that such aerial scouting might enable future rovers to safely drive up to three times as far per sol. However, the new AutoNav capability at Perseverance significantly reduced this advantage, allowing the rover to cover more than 100 meters per sol.
In 2019, preliminary designs of Ingenuity were tested on Earth in simulated Mars atmospheric and gravity conditions. For flight testing, a large vacuum chamber was used to simulate the very low pressure of the atmosphere of Mars – filled with carbon dioxide to approximately 0.60% (about 1⁄160) of standard atmospheric pressure at sea level on Earth – which is roughly equivalent to a helicopter flying at 34,000 m (112,000 ft) altitude in the atmosphere of Earth. In order to simulate the much reduced gravity field of Mars (38% of Earth's), 62% of Earth's gravity was offset by a line pulling upwards during flight tests. A "wind-wall" consisting of almost 900 computer fans was used to provide wind in the chamber.: 1:08:05–1:08:40
At the time of the approval of the Mars 2020 program in July 2014, a helicopter flight demonstration was neither scoped nor budgeted. It was not until May 11, 2018 that Ingenuity was approved to be included in the mission. At the time of launch, the cost for designing and building this additional mission element was US$85 million.
Just prior to the final demonstration flight, on April 30, 2021, NASA allocated funding to continue the operation of Ingenuity for an “operational demonstration phase” to explore using a helicopter as supplementary reconnaissance for ground assets like Perseverance. Funding for Ingenuity is regularly renewed on a monthly basis.
After deployment, the rover drove approximately 100 m (330 ft) away from the drone to allow a safe flying zone. The Ingenuity helicopter was expected to fly up to five times during a 30-day test campaign, early in the rover's mission.
Each flight was planned for altitudes ranging 3–5 m (10–16 ft) above the ground, though Ingenuity soon exceeded that planned height. The first flight was a hover at an altitude of 3 m (9.8 ft), lasting about 40 seconds and including taking a picture of the rover. The first flight succeeded, and subsequent flights were increasingly ambitious as allotted time for operating the helicopter dwindled. JPL said the mission might even stop before the 30-day period ended, in the likely event that the helicopter crashed,: 0:49:50–0:51:40 an outcome which did not occur. In up to 90 seconds per flight, Ingenuity could travel as far as 50 m (160 ft) downrange and then back to the starting area, though that goal was also soon exceeded with the fourth flight. The helicopter uses autonomous control during its flights, which are telerobotically planned and scripted by operators at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). It communicates with the Perseverance rover directly before and after each landing.: 1:20:38–1:22:20
After the successful first three flights, the objective was changed from technology demonstration to operational demonstration. Ingenuity flew through a transitional phase of two flights, flight 4 and 5 before transitioning to its operations demonstration phase. In the operations demonstration phase that started from the 6th flight, the mission goal shifted towards supporting the rover science mission by mapping and scouting the terrain. While Ingenuity would do more to help Perseverance, the rover would pay less attention to the helicopter and stop taking pictures of it in flight. JPL managers said the photo procedure took an "enormous" amount of time, slowing the project's main mission of looking for signs of ancient life. On 30 April 2021, the fourth flight successfully captured numerous color photos and explored the surface with its black-and-white navigation camera. On May 7, Ingenuity successfully flew to a new landing site.
In September 2021 after 12 flights, the mission was extended indefinitely. In March 2022 after 21 flights, NASA said it would continue flying Ingenuity until at least the coming September. The area of the helicopter's next goal is more rugged than the relatively flat terrain it flew over in its first year of operation. The ancient fan-shaped river delta has jagged cliffs, angled surfaces and projecting boulders. Ingenuity will help the mission team decide which route Perseverance should take to the top of the delta and may aid in analyzing potential science targets. Software updates will eliminate the helicopter's 50-foot altitude limit, allow it to change speed in flight, and improve its understanding of terrain texture below it. NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said less than a year earlier "we didn’t even know if powered, controlled flight of an aircraft at Mars was possible." He said the transformation in understanding what the aircraft can do is "one of the most historic in the annals of air and space exploration."
|Flight No.||Date (UTC) and Mars 2020 mission sol||Photographs||Comments|
|Before April 19, 2021 (sol 58)||6||6||Preflight camera tests|
|1||April 19, 2021 (sol 58)||15||—|
|2||April 22, 2021 (sol 61)||17||3||The first color photo session|
|3||April 25, 2021 (sol 64)||24||4|
|4||April 30, 2021 (sol 69)||62||5|
|5||May 7, 2021 (sol 76)||128||6|
|6||May 23, 2021 (sol 91)||106||8|
|7||June 8, 2021 (sol 107)||72||0||RTE was turned off|
|8||June 22, 2021 (sol 121)||186||0|
|9||July 5, 2021 (sol 133)||193||10|
|10||July 24, 2021 (sol 152)||190||10||Five pairs of color images of Raised Ridges taken to make anaglyphs.|
|11||August 5, 2021 (sol 164)||194||10|
|12||August 16, 2021 (Sol 174)||197||10||Five pairs of color images of Séítah taken to make anaglyphs.|
|13||September 5, 2021 (Sol 193)||191||10|
|September 16, 2021 (Sol 204) to October 23, 2021 (Sol 240)||9||1||preflight 14 tests|
|14||October 24, 2021 (Sol 241)||182||—|
|15||November 6, 2021 (Sol 254)||191||10|
|November 15, 2021 (Sol 263)||—||1||ground color photo|
|16||November 21, 2021 (Sol 268)||185||9|
|November 27, 2021 (Sol 274)||—||1||ground color photo|
|17||December 5, 2021 (Sol 282)||192||—|
|18||December 15, 2021 (Sol 292)||184||—|
|December 20, 2021 (Sol 297) to February 3, 2022 (Sol 341)||10||1||preflight 19 tests and post-dust storm debris removal operations|
|19||February 8, 2022 (Sol 346)||92||—|
|20||February 25, 2022 (Sol 362)||110||10|
|February 27, 2022 (Sol 364)||—||1||preflight 21 tests|
|21||March 10, 2022 (Sol 375)||191||—|
Ingenuity has two commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) cameras on board. The Sony IMX 214 with 4208 x 3120 pixel resolution is a color camera with a global shutter to make terrain images for return to Earth (RTE). The Omnivision OV7251 (640 × 480) VGA is the downward-looking black and white rolling shutter navigation camera (NAV), which supplies the onboard computer of the helicopter with the raw data essential for flight control.
While the RTE color camera is not necessary for flight and may be switched off (as in flights 7 and 8), the NAV camera works throughout each flight, catching the first frame before takeoff and the last frame after landing. Its frame rate is synchronized with blade rotation to ease online image processing.
During flight, all NAV frames must be carefully stored in the onboard helicopter computer, with each frame assigned the unique timestamp of its creation. Loss of a single NAV image timestamp was an anomaly that caused the helicopter to move erratically during flight 6.
The longer a flight lasts, the more NAV photos must be stored. Each new record flight duration automatically means a record number of images taken by the NAV camera. The frequency and timing of the camera's operations are predetermined not for the sake of records, but due to the technical necessity. A huge number of NAV files does not overload the local storage of the helicopter. Less than 200 NAV files are uploaded to NASA storage after each flight (starting with the eighth flight), and the total volume is only about five megabytes. The limitations are imposed by weakness of local telecommunications: when landed, the helicopter relays data to the rover in a slow mode of 20 kbit/s. Another significant limitation is caused by the location of the antenna on the side of the rover. If turned wrong side to the helicopter, the rover body may impede signal reception.
The navigation camera has been programmed to deactivate whenever the rotorcraft is within 1 m (3.3 ft) of the surface. This helps ensure any dust kicked up during takeoff and landing won’t interfere with the navigation system as it tracks features on the ground.
Most of the NAV files are not transmitted to the rover base station for return to Earth. JPL explained that navigation images are used by Ingenuity's flight computer and then discarded unless controllers tell the helicopter to store them for later use. Ingenuity captures navigation images at 30 frames per second and saves one image approximately every 700 milliseconds to be transmitted later to Earth and released to the public. From more than 4000 NAV files acquired on flight four, only 62 were stored.
With the end of the flight technology demonstration, Perseverance project manager Jennifer Trosper relinquished her team's responsibilities for photographing Ingenuity to concentrate exclusively on the rover science mission of searching for signs of ancient Martian life. Without pictures from the rover, the flight team relied more heavily on photos taken by the helicopter NAV camera to confirm Ingenuity's location. The helicopter, however, does not create or refine the maps, but rather, depends upon work coordinated by the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center and performed by the NASA Mars and Lunar Cartography Working Groups.
To support the Mars-2020 mission, USGS used photos by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to produce Context Camera (CTX) and Digital Terrain Models (DTM) and orthoimage mosaics. Those images were used by the Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) feature on the Perseverance descent vehicle and helped determine the safest landing location. Using maps created from photos and radar elevation data previously acquired by the MRO and other NASA missions, planetary cartographers manually correlate them with terrain features seen by Ingenuity's small and lens-distorted NAV images. After each NAV frame is assigned a georeference, the resulting flight maps are shown at NASA's Mars-2020 tracking service. NAV frames from Ingenuity are also used to produce moving images that show the Martian terrain passing under Ingenuity during its flights.
In November 2021 the Ingenuity team started to supply scientists a new kind of photographic materials — the color photos taken on the ground during the interflight periods. By December, 3 two such photos were received on Earth, the first one acquired on November 15 (sol 263) and another on November 27 (sol 274).
Unlike Perseverance, Ingenuity does not have a special stereo camera for taking twin photos for 3D pictures simultaneously. However, the helicopter has made such images by taking duplicate color photos of the same terrain while hovering in slightly offset positions, as in flight 11, or by taking an offset picture on the return leg of a roundtrip flight, as in flight 12.
As of December 16, 2021, 2091 black-and-white images from the navigation camera and 104 color images from the terrain camera (RTE) have been published.
Main article: List of Ingenuity flights
Perseverance dropped the debris shield protecting Ingenuity on March 21, 2021, and the helicopter deployed from the underside of the rover to the martian surface on April 3, 2021. That day both cameras of the helicopter were tested taking their first b/w and color photos of the floor of Jezero Crater in the shadow of the rover.
Ingenuity's rotor blades were successfully unlocked on April 8, 2021 (mission sol 48), and the helicopter performed a low-speed rotor spin test at 50 rpm.
A high-speed spin test was attempted on April 9, but failed due to the expiration of a watchdog timer, a software measure to protect the helicopter from incorrect operation in unforeseen conditions. On April 12, JPL said it identified a software fix to correct the problem. To save time, however, JPL decided to use a workaround procedure, which managers said had an 85% chance of succeeding and would be "the least disruptive" to the helicopter.
On April 16, 2021, Ingenuity successfully passed the full-speed 2400 rpm rotor spin test while remaining on the surface. Three days later, April 19, JPL flew the helicopter for the first time. The watchdog timer problem occurred again when the fourth flight was attempted. The team rescheduled the flight, which succeeded on April 30. On June 25, JPL said it had uploaded a software update the previous week to permanently fix the watchdog problem, and that a rotor spin test and the eighth flight confirmed that the update worked.
The Ingenuity team plans to fly the helicopter every two to three weeks during its indefinitely extended mission. The helicopter's longer-than-expected flying career lasted into a seasonal change on Mars, when the atmospheric density at its location became even lower. The flight team prepared by commanding Ingenuity to ground-test a faster rotor blade rotation, needed for sufficient lift. JPL said the higher planned flight speed of 2700 rpm would pose new risks, including vibration, power consumption and aerodynamic drag if the blade tips approach the speed of sound. The test speed was 2800 rpm, giving a margin for increase if the intended flight speed of 2700 is not enough. Ingenuity faced another challenge to remain functional during the Martian winter and solar conjunction, when Mars moves behind the Sun, blocking communications with Earth and forcing the rover and helicopter to halt operations. The shutdown happened in mid-October 2021, for which preparations started in mid-September. The helicopter remained stationary at its location 575 feet (175 meters) away from Perseverance and communicated its status weekly to the rover for health checks. JPL intended to continue flying Ingenuity since it survived solar conjunction. NASA leadership has acknowledged that extending the mission adds to the original Ingenuity budget of $80 million but has stated that any increase would be minimal compared to what NASA is learning.
The start time of a flight is chosen depending on temperature management of the batteries, which need to warm up after the night. During Martian summer lower air density imposed a higher load on the motors, so flights were shifted from noon (LMST 12:30) to morning (LMST 9:30) and limited to 130 seconds to not overheat the motors.
On May 3 and 4, 2022, for the first time in the mission, the helicopter unexpectedly failed to communicate with the rover, following the 28th flight on April 29. JPL determined that Ingenuity's rechargeable batteries suffered a power drop or insufficient battery state-of-charge (SOC) while going into the night, most likely because of a seasonal increase in atmospheric dust reducing sunshine on its solar panel and due to lower temperatures as winter approached. When the battery pack’s state of charge dropped below a lower limit, the helicopter’s field-programmable gate array (FPGA) powered down, resetting the mission clock, which lost sync with the base station on the rover. Contact was re-established on May 5. Controllers decided to turn off the helicopter's heaters at night to conserve power, accepting the risk of exposing components to nighttime's extreme cold. This daily SOC deficit is likely to persist for the duration of Martian winter (at least until September/October). Each sol could be Ingenuity’s last.
In a June 6, 2022 update, JPL reported Ingenuity's inclination sensor had stopped working. Its purpose was to determine the helicopter's orientation at the start of each flight. Mission controllers developed a workaround using the craft's inertial measurement unit (IMU) to provide equivalent data to the onboard navigation computer.
NASA and JPL officials described the first Mars Ingenuity helicopter flight as their "Wright Brothers moment", by analogy to the first successful airplane flight on Earth. A small piece of the wing cloth from the Wright brothers' 1903 Wright Flyer is attached to a cable underneath Ingenuity's solar panel. In 1969, Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong carried a similar Wright Flyer artifact to the Moon in the Lunar Module Eagle.
NASA named Ingenuity's first take-off and landing airstrip Wright Brothers Field, which the UN agency ICAO gave an airport code of JZRO for Jezero Crater, and the drone itself a type designator of IGY, call-sign INGENUITY.
The Ingenuity technology demonstrator could form the foundation on which more capable aircraft might be developed for aerial exploration of Mars and other planetary targets with atmospheres like Mars. The next generation of rotorcraft could be in the range between 5 and 30 kg (11 and 66 lb) with science payloads between 0.5 and 5 kg (1.1 and 11.0 lb). These potential aircraft could have direct communication to an orbiter and may or may not continue to work with a landed asset. Future helicopters could be used to explore special regions with exposed water ice or brines, where Mars microbial life could potentially survive.
Data collected by Ingenuity is supporting planning of a future helicopter design by engineers at JPL, NASA's Ames Research Center and AeroVironment. The Mars Science Helicopter, a proposed successor to Ingenuity, would be a hexacopter, or six-rotor helicopter, with a mass of about 30 kg (66 lb) compared to 1.8 kg (4.0 lb) of Ingenuity. Mars Science Helicopter could carry as much as 5 kg (11 lb) of science payloads and fly up to 10 km (6.2 mi) per flight.
In July 2022 NASA announced that instead of a newly-landed rover it will use two helicopters as a backup method to retrieve samples collected by Perseverance for return to Earth. The decision was based on the success of Ingenuity. The Mars Sample Return mission will not include a Sample Fetch Rover and its associated second lander, but instead will use a single lander carrying the helicopters and the ascent rocket that will take the samples to an orbiter, from where they will be launched back to Earth. Mission planners intend that Perseverance itself will retrieve samples that it previously cached on the surface and drive them to the ascent rocket. The helicopters, which will be slightly heavier than Ingenuity, would be used if Percy is unable to perform the task. The helicopters will have wheels on their landing legs and a mechanical arm, enabling them to roll up, grab a sample and fly to the return vehicle. The helicopters will have a range of 700 meters, but plans call for the lander to be within 50 meters of the "depot" where the samples will be deposited. Each sample tube is about 150 grams.
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Indeed, flying close to the surface of Mars is the equivalent of flying at more than 87,000 feet on Earth, essentially three times the height of Mount Everest, NASA engineers said. The altitude record for a helicopter flight on Earth is 41,000 feet.