NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter collected this image of the Perseverance rover's backshell and parachute during its 26th flight on April 19. The images may provide insight into the components' performance during the rover's entry, descent and landing, as well as help plan for a mission to return the rover's regolith sample collection to Earth. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech
ORLANDO, Fla., April 28 (UPI) -- NASA released images of the parachute and backshell that helped the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter land on Mars last year.
The pictures, released Wednesday, were taken last week by the 4-pound rotorcraft after engineers sent it on a hunt for the mission's landing gear.
NASA officials said they expect the images to help in planning its next major Mars mission -- returning samples of regolith collected by the rover.
The mission, which will be a joint endeavor by NASA and the European Space Agency, aims to bring the samples back as early as 2033.
"Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown," Ian Clark, a former Perseverance systems engineer who serves as the Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement.
"But Ingenuity's images offer a different vantage point," Clark said. "If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars sample return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring."
Ingenuity traveled to Mars tucked underneath the Perseverance rover on Feb. 18, 2021, on a mission to find signs of ancient life on the red planet's surface.
As the duo descended through the Martian atmosphere, the backshell shielded them from the scorching heat of planetary re-entry, while a supersonic parachute deployed to dramatically slow the rover's descent.
Stretching 70.5 feet wide, the parachute was the largest ever deployed on Mars. Once the rover's descent was slowed, it was lowered the rest of the way to the surface using a rocket-powered sky crane.
NASA officials said both pieces of hardware worked as expected, even though the backshell ended up in pieces -- unsurprising because it hit the Martian surface at about 78 mph.
Overall, initial image analysis indicated that the craft's landing gear held up well despite the tremendous stresses endured getting to the surface of Mars. Officials say, however, that more analysis is needed to fully understand what the two pieces of hardware went through.
"Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact," JPL officials said in the statement. "And, the [parachute's] canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation."
Ingenuity's April 19 flight lasted about 159 seconds -- it traveled 1,181 feet at an altitude of 26 feet -- with the craft snapping 10 pictures of the backshell and parachute, according to JPL.
"To get the shots we needed, Ingenuity did a lot of maneuvering, but we were confident because there was complicated maneuvering on flights 10, 12 and 13," said Håvard Grip, chief pilot of Ingenuity at JPL.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration mission that set out to prove it was possible to fly a helicopter in the thin Martian atmosphere. Officials have noted with each flight -- it now has 26 -- that the craft has surpassed all expectations.
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, using its Mastcam-Z camera system, captured this view of the Martian sunset on November 9, 2021, the 257th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Martian sunsets typically stand out for their distinctive blue color as fine dust in the atmosphere permits blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than colors with longer wavelengths. But this sunset looks different: Less dust in the atmosphere resulted in a more muted color than average. The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo