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Ingenuity Mars helicopter photos show latest flight area

A photo taken by the Mars helicopter Ingenuity shows a rocky ridge and its shadow at the bottom. Photo courtesy of NASA
A photo taken by the Mars helicopter Ingenuity shows a rocky ridge and its shadow at the bottom. Photo courtesy of NASA

July 12 (UPI) -- Photos from the Mars helicopter Ingenuity's ninth flight released by NASA on Monday are helping engineers and scientists plot the next destinations for the Perseverance rover.

The aircraft was sent toward some possible science targets for the mission, flying over a sandy dune area known as Séítah that might be hazardous for the rover.

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The photos showed the dunes and rocky outcroppings with much greater detail than NASA has obtained of the region from cameras on orbiters, the agency said in a press release.

NASA previously had noted the flight on July 5 was the longest yet for Ingenuity at over 2,000 feet.

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The flight also was the first time the helicopter was tasked only with gathering intelligence for the rover. Previous flights were designed to demonstrate flight on another planet, the aircraft's main purpose.

"Ingenuity provided new insight into where different rock layers begin and end, each layer serving as a time capsule for how conditions in the ancient climate changed at this location," according to NASA.

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"The helicopter is an extremely valuable asset for rover planning because it provides high-resolution imagery of the terrain we want to drive through," said one of NASA's remote drivers for the rover, Olivier Toupet. "We can better assess the size of the dunes and where bedrock is poking out."

The rover and helicopter landed on Mars on Feb. 18, and the rover released the craft from its underside on April 4.

On April 30, NASA decided to extend the helicopter's mission indefinitely to use it as a scout for the rover.

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The Mars helicopter's 12th flight flight went to the geological wonder that is the “South Séítah” region. It climbed 32.8 feet for a total of 169 seconds and flew about 1,476 feet to scout the area for later scrutiny by the land rover.

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