Ingenuity successfully completes 41st flight

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

On January 27, 2023, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity successfully completed its 41st flight, flying about 600 feet total in an out-and-back flight that took 109 seconds, slightly longer in length and time than originally planned.

You can watch a very short animation from a handful of the pictures taken during the flight at the first link above. The green dot on the overview map to the right marks Ingenuity’s position before and after the flight, the blue dot Perseverance’s present location. The green line indicates the flight’s approximate path, designed to scout the route that Perseverance intends to follow, as indicated by the red dotted line. The actual flight path has not yet been published. I will add it to this map when the Ingenuity science team provides it.

Expect the next flight to duplicate this one, except it will likely not return but land somewhere out ahead.

Perseverance completes placement of first ten samples for later pick up

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

On January 29, 2023 the Perseverance science team completed the placement of the first ten core samples on the floor of Jezero Crater.

On the overview map to the right, the green outline indicates the location of this sample depot. The blue dot marks Perseverance’s present location, while the green dot marks Ingenuity. The red dotted line shows the planned route up onto the delta, which is Perseverance’s next goal.

The titanium tubes were deposited on the surface in an intricate zigzag pattern, with each sample about 15 to 50 feet (5 to 15 meters) apart from one another to ensure they could be safely recovered. Adding time to the depot-creation process, the team needed to precisely map the location of each 7-inch-long (18.6-centimeter-long) tube and glove (adapter) combination so that the samples could be found even if covered with dust. The depot is on flat ground near the base of the raised, fan-shaped ancient river delta that formed long ago when a river flowed into a lake there.

This mapping will be used by a future Mars helicopter to precisely land by each sample, grab it, and then take it to the ascent vehicle for return to Earth.

Ingenuity completes 40th flight

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

As predicted by the Ingenuity engineering team on January 17, 2023, the Mars helicopter yesterday completed its 40th flight, flying approximately 92 seconds and 584 feet to the northwest to place it at the head of the hollow that Perseverance will travel to climb up onto the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater sometime in the past.

The green dot on the overview map to the right shows the helicopter’s position, post flight. The blue dot shows Perseverance’s present position. The red dotted line indicates the rover’s future route.

At the moment, only eleven images have been returned from the flight, and these only show the first 20 seconds of flight. The flight however has been added to the helicopter’s flight log, which shows that Ingenuity actually flew about 23 feet farther and 7 seconds longer than expected. This extra distance was likely because the helicopter needed to find a good landing site, using its upgraded software that allows it to fly over rougher terrain.

Ingenuity about to fly up onto the delta

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

The engineering team that operates the helicopter Ingenuity on Mars announced today that the next flight, #39, will go about 456 feet and travel to the northeast.

The green dot on the map to the right shows Ingenuity’s present location. The yellow lines indicate the territory within which this flight will head. If successful it will be the first time the helicopter has left the floor of Jezero Crater, and moved uphill onto the delta that flowed into that crater sometime in the far past.

The blue dot marks Perseverance’s present location. The dotted red line indicates its eventual planned route on that delta.

The engineers state that their flight goal is to “flight test new software”. This new software is supposed to allow Ingenuity to fly over rougher terrain. On the 38th flight, it proved its worth by not only flying over an area of rippled sand dunes, it landed between two.

This next flight, scheduled for sometime today, will be even more challenging, because the helicopter will have to fly upward above higher terrain.

Perseverance experiment generates new record of breathable oxygen on Mars

MOXIE, an experiment on the rover Perseverance to see if breathable oxygen could be generated from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere, has set a new production record.

The atmosphere around Jezero Crater, the present location of Perseverance, reached peak density for the year mid (Earth) summer. This presented the perfect opportunity for the MOXIE science team to step on the accelerator and test how fast we could safely produce oxygen. This test occurred on Sol 534 (Aug. 22, 2022) and produced a peak of 10.44 grams per hour of oxygen. This represented a new record for Martian oxygen production! The team was thrilled to surpass our design goal of 6 grams per hour by over 4.4 grams. The peak rate was held for 1 minute of the 70 minutes oxygen was produced during the run.

MOXIE’s next opportunity to operate came recently. Despite the decreasing density of the Mars atmosphere, on Sol 630 (Nov. 28, 2022) MOXIE managed to break the record again and produce nearly 10.56 grams per hour at peak. Oxygen production was sustained for a 9.79 grams per hour for nearly 40 minutes.

These numbers may seem small, but MOXIE production runs are limited by available rover power. In addition, MOXIE technology was miniaturized to accommodate the limited space available on the rover. A MOXIE for a human Mars mission would produce oxygen nearly 200 times faster and work continuously for well over a year.

Ten grams per hour is about half what one person needs to breathe, and is a little less than a large tree produces. Moreover, MOXIE had earlier conducted seven other runs, producing about six grams of oxygen per hour during each.

Based on these tests, MOXIE has unequivocally proven that future human explorers will not need to bring much oxygen with them, and will in fact have essentially an unlimited supply, on hand from the red planet itself. More important, MOXIE has also proven that the technology to obtain this oxygen already exists.

All we need to do is plant enough MOXIE trees on Mars.

Perseverance’s planned route up onto the Jezero Crater delta

Perseverance's future route onto the delta
Click for original image.

Even as the Perseverance science team prepares to cache the ten first core samples on the surface of Mars for later pickup by a future Mars helicopter for return to Earth, they have also released the planned route they intend to follow as they drive the rover up onto the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater in the distant past.

The black line on the map to the right shows that route, with the black dots indicating points in which further core samples will likely be taken. The red dot indicates Perseverance’s present position, with the white line indicating its past travels. The green dot marks Ingenuity’s present position.

Ingenuity completes 36th flight; preps for its 37th

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Ingenuity on December 10, 2022 successfully completed 36th flight, flying about 180 feet to the northwest and then returning the same distance to land at its take-off point.

This was the third flight in a row to land at this point, and was also the third flight since the Mars helicopter’s software was upgraded to allow it to fly higher and over rougher terrain.

The green dot on the map to the right shows Ingenuity’s present position. The blue dot shows where Perseverance presently sits. The rover has been moving eastward, away from the cliff face to the west where it had gathered more core samples, including the first to contain surface regolith (that is, the dirt of Mars).

Engineers are already planning Ingenuity’s 37th flight, which is scheduled for tomorrow and will reposition the helicopter to a new landing spot.

Perseverance records sound of dust devil

For the first time scientists have used the microphone on the Mars rover Perseverance to successfully record the sound of dust devil as it flowed overhead.

I have embedded a video of the recording below. The research paper can be read here.

Dust devils on Mars, while much less dense in its very thin atmosphere, are generally much larger than found on Earth.

The dust devil recently detected by Perseverance was 25 meters wide and 118 meters tall (82 feet by 387 feet), putting it squarely in the average zone in terms of size for Martian dust storms. But they can grow much bigger, too, as dust on Mars can be whipped up in huge global dust storms.

The data also picked up the sound of dust particles hitting the microphone, which will allow the scientists to measure the density of the devil.
» Read more

Ingenuity sets altitude record on 35th flight

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

On December 3, 2022 Ingenuity completed its 35th flight, traveling about 49 feet sideways but reaching a new altitude record for the Mars helicopter of 46 feet.

The map to the right shows the helicopter’s new position by the green dot, with Perseverance’s present position shown with the blue dot. The helicopter only moved slightly to the northwest of its previous position.

The plan had been to test the helicopter’s upgraded software at this new altitude while flying fly 50 feet sideways for 52 seconds at a speed of 6.7 feet per second. The flight met these goals almost exactly, going a distance only slightly shorter, well within its margin of error. The new altitude record however is significant, as going even slight distances higher in Mars’ very thin atmosphere (1/1000th of Earth’s) is challenging, to say the least. This higher flight means Ingenuity can fly up above higher terrain, such as the delta that is Perseverance’s next goal.

Perseverance data so far finds no evidence of lake in Jezero Crater

The uncertainty of science: Though scientists had assumed the presence of an ancient delta that once flowed into Jezero Crater meant a lake once filled the crater, Perseverance data from its first year of roving has so far found no evidence that a lake every existed.

[A] summary of the first year of data from the rover, published in three different papers being released today, suggests that Perseverance has yet to stumble across any evidence of a watery paradise. Instead, all indications are that water exposure in the areas it explored was limited, and the waters were likely to be near freezing. While this doesn’t rule out that it will find lake deposits later, the environment might not have been as welcoming for life as “a lake in a crater” might have suggested.

Jezero Crater, like Gale Crater where Curiosity is roving, is located in the Martian dry equatorial regions. Though the data from Gale suggests a lake had once existed there, the data also suggests strongly that any water there acted more like water in cold climates like Iceland, existing mostly as glacial ice.

The jury is still out, but these results from Perseverance once again point to ice and glaciers as a possible explanation for many of the geological features on Mars that we on Earth automatically assume were caused by liquid water.

Ingenuity completes 34th flight using new hazard avoidance software

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Ingenuity yesterday completed its 34th flight on Mars, a short vertical up-and-down flight lasting only eighteen seconds in order to test just installed new hazard avoidance software.

The tan dotted line on the map to the right shows Ingenuity’s recent flights and ends where it sits today. The white dotted line marks Perseverance’s travels.

Ingenuity’s navigation software was designed to assume the vehicle was flying over flat terrain. When the helicopter is flying over terrain like hills, this flat-ground assumption causes Ingenuity’s navigation software to think the vehicle is veering, causing Ingenuity to start actually veering in an attempt to counter the error. Over long flights, navigation errors caused by rough terrain must be accounted for, requiring the team to select large airfields. This new software update corrects this flat-ground assumption by using digital elevation maps of Jezero Crater to help the navigation software distinguish between changes in terrain and vehicle movement. This increases Ingenuity’s accuracy, allowing the pilots to target smaller airfields going forward.

The new software is part of an effort to use Ingenuity to test helicopter flying in Jezero Crater in preparation for the two sample return helicopters which will eventually land here to grab Perservance’s core samples and bring them to the ascent vehicle for return to Earth.

Martian helicopters of the future

Today Bob Balaram, the chief engineer for the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, wrote up a short essay summarizing the helicopter’s successes on Mars.

This aircraft, very much also a spacecraft, has been on its own on the surface of Mars, detached from its traveling companion Perseverance, for over 500 Martian days or sols. It has operated way beyond its original planned mission of 30 sols, including surviving a brutal winter that it was not designed for. With 33 flights, almost an hour of flight time, over 7 km of travel in Jezero crater, takeoffs and landings from 25 airfields, almost 4000 navigation camera images, and 200 high-resolution color images, it has proven its worth as a scout for both scientists and rover planners. Currently, it is getting ready to use its fourth software update – this one with advanced navigation capabilities that will allow it to safely fly up the steep terrain of the Jezero river delta, scouting ahead of the rover Perseverance as it searches for signs of past life on Mars. [emphasis mine]

I have highlighted the number of flights above because Ingenuity was supposed to do a very short 34th flight on November 10th that would only have the helicopter go straight up 16 feet, hover, and then come straight back down. Yet, I have seen no postflight reports, and Ingenuity’s flight log still does not include it as of today. One image from Ingenuity that was taken on November 9th has been released, and shows the ground directly below it. No other recent images of this 34th flight however have been released.

The flight could still have happened, or was scrubbed for a later time. What is important however is all those other 33 flights, and what Ingenuity’s overall success has meant for future Martian exploration. As Balaram writes,
» Read more

Perseverance leaps forward

Perseverance's view on November 3, 2022 (Sol 606)
Click for full resolution. The original images can be found here and here.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! After spending several weeks at one location at the base of the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater eons ago, the science team today put the rover Perseverance into high gear, programming it to move 684 feet in one leap forward. The move worked, so that Perseverance has now climbed up onto a terrace of that delta so that it sits at the base of one of the hills that forms the delta’s head. The panorama above shows that hill. I estimate that hill is about thirty feet high, give or take 50%.

The blue dot on the map to the right shows the rover’s position. The yellow lines show the area viewed in the panorama above. The green dot shows the location of the helicopter Ingenuity.

It is almost certain that the science team will get another core sample from this location, as it is at least one layer higher on the delta, thus providing new geology for that core to document. I am guessing unfortunately. Unlike the Curiosity science team (which posts updates at least one to three times a week), the Perseverance science team posts updates at best only once a week, if that, and those posts have rarely provided information about the team’s future plans.

The panorama above is cool, but what prompted this post is the image below that the rover took after arriving at this location.
» Read more

NASA & ESA pick site for Perseverance to deposit its samples for pickup

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Engineers at NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have now chosen the site in Jezero Crater where Perseverance will deposit its first set of core samples for later pickup by a mission to bring them back to Earth.

The location, at the base of the delta that flows into the crater and indicated by the white cross on the map to the right, will contain all the core samples collected from the floor of the crater. This area, in the middle of the flat region the science team has dubbed Three Forks, provides a good landing place for the sample return helicopter that will fly from point to point to pick these samples up. The blue dot on the map indicates Perseverance’s present position. The green dot where the helicopter Ingenuity presently sits.

Once the rover has finished collecting samples and doing its research at the base of the delta, it will deposit those samples at this point and then move up onto the delta, where it will collect more samples that will be placed at a different spot for pickup.

Tiny cobbles on Mars

Tiny cobbles on Mars

Our second cool image takes us from grand galaxies, one of the universe’s largest coherent objects, to tiny cobbles on Mars. The picture to the right, taken by one of Perseverance’s close-up cameras on September 29, 2022, covers an area less than an inch across, making the largest rounded pebbles in this image only a few millimeters in size.

The rover presently sits on the floor of Jezero Crater, at the base of the delta that flowed into that crater eons ago. The data suggests that delta was created by flowing water entering a lake that filled the crater.

Did flowing water create these cobbles? These pebbles all have the look of the rounded cobble one finds either in river beds, or in glacial moraines. In both cases, the flow of the water or ice rolls the rocks along until they become rounded.

Fabric debris spotted on Ingenuity during 33rd flight

Tattered fabric debris on Ingenuity's leg during flight
Click to see full movie of flight.

In reviewing the images from Ingenuity’s 33rd flight on September 24, 2022, engineers have spotted what looks like a tattered piece of fabric fluttering on the end of one of the helicopter’s legs, and then disappearing.

The image to the right, cropped, enhanced, and labeled to post here, comes from an animation created from all images taken during the flight.

A small piece of foreign object debris (FOD) was seen in footage from the Mars helicopter’s navigation camera (Navcam) for a portion of its 33rd flight. This FOD was not visible in Navcam footage from the previous flight (32). The FOD is seen in Flight 33 Navcam imagery from the earliest frames to approximately halfway through the video, when it fell from the leg and drifted back to the Mars surface.

The engineers do not yet know what this was, but it apparently caused no harm to the helicopter. It also is likely not from either Ingenuity or Perseverance, as both are functioning perfectly. Most likely it is a piece of the parachute used during landing and then ejected.

Ingenuity completed 33rd flight this past weekend

This notice is a bit late, but then, there really isn’t much to report. According to the Ingenuity flight log, engineers successfully completed the helicopter’s 33rd flight on September 24, 2022, flying about 364 feet for 55 seconds.

The plan had been to fly 365 feet for 55.6 seconds, so that matched their plan almost exactly. According to the interactive map that tracks the movement of both the rover Perseverance and the helicopter, this flight continued the helicopter’s movement almost due west, bringing it closer to the rover so as to facilitate communications.

The primary goal of Ingenuity’s engineering team at this time is to refine the accuracy of their software in order to better understand how to fly robots on Mars. This will help prepare the next helicopters for future missions.

Ingenuity completes 32nd flight

According to a tweet from JPL, Ingenuity successfully completed its 32nd flight on Mars on September 18, 2022.

The 55.3-second flight covered 93.74m at a max speed of 4.75 meters per second.

That is about 308 feet distance, comparable to the helicopter’s previous flight. Though it probably continued to the west, as with that last flight, JPL’s tweet did not provide any directional information.

This second short hop in a row however suggests that the team’s focus has definitely shifted from scouting for Perseverance to practicing precision landings, thus gathering data to help build the future Martian helicopter that will be used to pick up Perseverance’s core samples some time in the future.

Want to do a virtual hike in Jezero Crater on Mars? You can!

Using data from Mars orbiters, Perseverance, and Ingenuity, scientists have now created a virtual hiking map of Jezero Crater, allowing anyone to explore in detail the same places that the rover and helicopter have visited.

You can view the map here. From the press release:

The map allows virtual hikers to zoom in and out, and pan rapidly across scenes, so that they can explore the landscape from large scales down to centimetre-detail. Some of the 360° panoramas integrated with the waypoints have been synthetically rendered from orbital image data. Others are real panoramas stitched together from a multitude of single images taken by the Mastcam-Z camera instrument onboard the Mars 2020 Rover Perseverance, which have been provided by the University of Arizona. The sounds have been recorded by the SuperCam instrument on that same rover mission.

I’ve played with the map only a little, but find it quite amazing and useful, especially because it seems to work well on my relatively ordinary desktop Linux computer.

Ingenuity completes 31st flight

Perseverance's location on September 2, 2022
Click for interactive map

Though no details have yet been released, the engineering team for the Mars helicopter Ingenuity has posted the numbers for the helicopter’s 31st flight, which took place yesterday.

Ingenuity flew 318 feet to a height of 33 feet for 56 seconds. The maximum ground speed was 10.6 mph. The white dot on the map to the right indicates the approximate landing spot. The blue dot Perseverance’s location as of September 3rd.

The flight plan had been to fly 319 feet, so Ingenuity landed one foot short of that plan.

That difference does not indicate any problems. However, one of the present goals of the engineering team is to improve their landing accuracy in order to provide data for the future sample return helicopter that is now in development to come and get Perseverance’s sample cores. That future helicopter will need to be able to land very precisely, and they are using Ingenuity to refine the Martian flight software.

Ingenuity’s flight plan for its next and 31st flight

Perseverance's location on September 2, 2022
Click for interactive map

The Ingenuity engineering team today released the flight plan for the helicopter’s next flight on Mars, its thirty-first since arrival.

The flight is scheduled for no earlier than September 6, mid-day on Mars, and will travel about one minute to the west for a distance of about 319 feet. The white dot on the overview map to the right shows the approximate landing spot, with the green dot marking Ingenuity’s present position. The blue dot marks Perseverance’s present position as it moves to the south and west after leaving the first delta cliff face it studied during the past few months.

The flight’s main goal is to reposition the helicopter to keep it close to the rover to facilitate communications. However, the engineering team has also now adjusted its goals to also practice hitting very precise landing spots. This goal is to develop the engineering and software that can be used on the helicopter that is not yet built that NASA and ESA intend to use to recover Perseverance’s core samples for return to Earth. That helicopter will not only have to very precisely land right next to those samples in a position allowing it to grab them, it must also land very precisely next to the sample return spacecraft to deposit them within it.

Perseverance: Evidence of both past lava and liquid water on the floor of Jezero Crater

Figure 6: Two models for geological history of Jezero Crater

Two new papers (here and here), published last week in Science and using data obtained during Perseverance’s first year of roving on Mars, strongly suggest that the floor of Jezero Crater was first formed by lava flows, either from impact or later flows from eruptions, followed by a period where liquid water interacted with these igneous materials to produce the chemistry seen today. From the first paper:

After emplacement of the igneous rocks on the crater floor, multiple forms of aqueous interaction modified—but did not destroy—their igneous mineralogy, composition, and texture. Evidence for alteration includes the presence of carbonate in the Séítah abrasion patches, the iron oxides in the Máaz formation abrasion patches (which we presume are due to iron mobilization and precipitation), and the deposition of salts including sulfates and perchlorate. More broadly, the appearance of possible spheroidal weathering textures suggests that aqueous alteration played a role in rock disintegration.

The graphic to the right, figure 6 in the first paper, shows two different models for the geological formation of the floor of Jezero Crater. “Basalt emplacement” are the lava flows.

According to the press release today [pdf], the first core samples that the rover gathered for later pickup and return to Earth will likely show the following:

The salts include sulfates, similar to Epsom salts, which are common on Mars. Most importantly, high levels of chlorine-containing salts are also present, such as chlorides (“table salt”) and perchlorates. These highly soluble salts reveal that the rocks were soaked in brines, and hence contain clear evidence of liquid water.

The on-going big geological mystery of Mars remains. The data suggests liquid water once existed as some form in Jezero Crater. Other data suggests liquid water existed elsewhere on Mars as well. Yet, no model exists that anyone accepts with any confidence that makes it possible for liquid water to exist on the Martian surface. Its atmosphere has always been either too cold or thin.

To underline this conundrum, note that in the graphic above, neither model includes a time period when liquid water sat on top of these layers. Though the evidence calls for liquid water at some time, the scientists do not feel confident enough to include it in these initial models.

One possible explanation that I sense some scientists are beginning to consider is the chemical interaction of melted ice at the base of past long gone ice glaciers. The ice would be frozen, but the glacier’s movement might create pockets of liquid water at its base, which over eons might result in these chemical reactions. If Jezero Crater had once been filled with glaciers, as many Martian craters in the mid-latitudes appear to be now, this could have provided the water necessary for the chemical modifications the scientists are finding.

This theory however is entirely speculative on my part, and has not yet been proposed by any scientists, though I have seen hints of it in a number of different research papers.

Perseverance gets a glimpse into the history of Jezero crater

A glimpse into the history of Jezero Crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on August 17, 2022 by one of Perseverance’s high resolution camera. It shows the exposed layers of a nearby cliff face that comprises the end of the delta that once flowed into Jezero Crater in the distant Martian past.

My guess is that this cliff is about 20 feet high. The more massive, thicker and younger layers near the top, compared to the thinner and older layers below, suggest a major change in the cyclic events. The early cycles that lay down this delta were initially shorter and able to place less material with each cycle, while the last few cycles were longer, producing thicker layers.

The difference in layers also strongly suggests that all the blocks at the foot of the cliff fell from more massive layers at the top. Material that broke off from the lower thinner layers has likely long ago eroded away.

Ingenuity completes 30th flight

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity sometime during the August 20-21 weekend successfully completed its 30th flight, a short hop designed to check out its systems after a two-month pause during the dusty Martian winter.

The tweet mentions the flight was also an effort to clear off any dust that settled on the helicoper’s solar panels. In addition, the flight tested precision landings in anticipation of the present plans to use a helicopter on a future mission to recover Perseverance’s Martian samples.

The tweet provides no information about the flight, but this update from August 19, 2022 describes the flight plan:

When things get underway, the helicopter will climb to a max altitude of 16.5 feet (5 meters), translate sideways about 6.5 feet (2 meters), and then land. Total time aloft will be around 33 seconds.

Ingenuity gearing up for 30th flight

The engineering team for the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars announced yesterday that they have successfully completed two some spin-up tests and are preparing for the first short hop following the pause in flights during the height of the Martian winter dust season.

To confirm that she is still flightworthy, we performed a 50-rpm spin on Aug. 6, and on Aug. 15 we performed a high-speed spin, which spun up the rotor system to flight-like speeds of 2,573 rpm for several seconds. Telemetry downlinked after both tests indicates Ingenuity is a go for flight.

Our 30th flight will be similar to our second flight. On April 22, 2021, Flight 2 was the first to include sideways movement: We “translated” 13 feet (4 meters) and then returned before landing. Flight 30 will be shorter, translating sideways only 7 feet (2 meters) and then landing, but with the specific goal of providing a data point on Ingenuity’s ability to accurately approach a landing target. Our navigation system’s performance will be of value to the Sample Recovery Helicopter team (part of the Mars Sample Return Program) in their early design work for a next-generation Mars Helicopter navigation system.

The last sentence references the recent decision to use a helicopter on the future sample return mission to land near the cached Perseverance samples and grab them.

The 30th flight is supposed to occur sometime in the next few days.

Strings in Perseverance’s drill?

String in Perseverance's drill
Click for full image.

Since August 5th, the Perseverance science team has been trying to figure out the origin as well as the consequences of “two string-like pieces” of foreign object debris (FOD as used by today’s acronym-happy scientists) that they have spotted next to one of the rover’s coring drill bits.

The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, looks directly down at that core drill bit and shows one of those strings both to the side of the bit as well in full resolution in the inset. From today’s update:

Since first identified Aug. 5 in imagery of the rover’s sample collection system after a 12th rock core sample was taken, the FOD has been the focus of several methodical diagnostic activities in an attempt to better understand the nature of the debris.

We’ve commanded the rover to move, rotate, or vibrate components we think could harbor FOD. And we’ve obtained multiple sets of images of the components from different angles and in different lighting conditions from rover cameras: Mastcam-Z, Navcam, Hazcam, Supercam, and even the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera located on the rover’s turret. Finally, a thorough review of recent coring and bit-exchange activities confirm that they all executed nominally with no indication of interference from the FOD.

Analysis of the latest round of imaging, downlinked earlier today, indicates that while the two small pieces remain visible in the upper part of the drill chuck, no new FOD has been observed. In addition, imagery taken of the ground beneath the robotic arm and turret, as well as the rover deck, also showed no new FOD.

Because these strings do not appear to interfere in any way with the drill’s operation, the science team has decided neither is a cause for concern, and will therefore command the rover to leave this just-completed drill site and move on to the southwest to a location at the base of the delta the rover visited about three months ago.

The strings themselves are likely pieces from the equipment released during the rover’s landing, and might even have come from the tangled string the rover imaged on the nearby ground in July, and that was gone just four days later. The wind had blown it away, and may have even at that time blown pieces into the drill.

Strange terrain southwest of Jezero Crater

Strange terrain near Jezero Crater

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on June 16, 2022 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It shows what the scientists have merely label “landforms.”

I instead call them strange. Clearly we are seeing exposed layering that surrounds the mesa in the middle of the image. This in turn suggests that the mesa top was once the surface of this whole region, and that region had been formed by the repeated placement of multiple sedimentary layers. Then, over time the surrounding terrain was eroded away, exposing those underlying layers.

Even so, some of the parallel lines do not appear to be layers, but striations etched into the ground. To get a better look, the white box marks the area covered by a full resolution close-up below.
» Read more

The scattered debris from Perseverance’s landing, now being tracked by the rover

Perseverance's parachute, as photographed by Ingenuity
Click for full image.

A piece of string on Mars
Click for full image.

The Perseverance science team today posted a detailed update on the various pieces of debris that both the rover and the Ingenuity helicopter have been tracking since both landed on Mars in February 2021.

Some of the EDL [entry, descent, landing] hardware broke into smaller pieces when it impacted the surface. These pieces of EDL debris have been spotted in images of the Hogwallow Flats region, a location roughly 2 km to the northwest of the EDL hardware crash zones. As of Sol 508 (July 24, 2022), the operations team has catalogued roughly half a dozen pieces of suspected EDL debris in this area. Some of these EDL debris are actively blowing around in the wind. So far, we’ve seen shiny pieces of thermal blanket material, Dacron netting material that is also used in thermal blankets, and a stringlike material that we conclude to be a likely piece of shredded Dacron netting.

To the right are two of the most interesting examples. The top image shows the parachute and associated equipment from the landing, taken by Ingenuity during a flight in April 2022. That image, when compared with an earlier picture taken from orbit, showed that the wind of Mars, though incredibly weak, had been able to shift the parachutes edges.

The second image shows the string that the rover photographed on July 12, 2022, and had blown away four days later when Perseverance re-photographed this site.

Today’s update notes that the area in the crater they have dubbed Hogwallow Flats “appears to be a natural collecting point for windblown EDL debris.” The flats are an area at the foot of the delta that flowed into Jezero Crater in the past, and is an area where Perseverance has been traveling most recently.

That the wind has been able to move small pieces so effectively is I think somewhat of a surprise. That it is gathering the material against the crater’s western cliffs suggests the prevailing winds here blow to the west.

NASA/ESA revise plan to recover Perseverance core samples from Mars

NASA and ESA yesterday announced that the agencies have revised their plan to recover Perseverance core samples from Mars, dropping the launch of a rover to pick up the samples.

Instead, they have decided to use Perseverance to bring the samples to the return vehicle, which will also carry two small helicopters.

In 2030, if all goes as planned, the NASA lander will touch down near where Perseverance is working. The rover will drive over to the lander, and an ESA-built robot arm will extract the tubes one by one and place them inside a spherical container the size of a basketball. In early 2031, a rocket on the lander will loft the container into Mars orbit, where a return craft built by ESA will snare it, enclose it in several layers of shielding for safety, and then head for home. In 2033, a saucer-shaped descent pod will carry the samples down to the Utah desert.

If Perseverance gets into difficulties during its 9-year wait for company, controllers can instruct it to drop its cargo of sample tubes onto the ground, creating a second depot. If that happens, the helicopters come into play: they can fly up to 700 meters, land next to a sample tube—each weighs up to 150 grams—and, with wheels on the bottom their feet, roll over the tube and pick it up with a grabber. On returning to the lander, they will drop the tubes on the ground for the arm to pick up.

The change means that the rover the United Kingdom was planning to build will either be abandoned, or repurposed as a lunar rover.

A Martian slot canyon!

A Martian slot canyon
For originals go here, here, and here.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Cool image time! The mosaic to the right is made up of three images produced by the high resolution camera on the Mars rover Perseverance (found here, here, and here). All three were taken on July 24, 2022 and look north to the nearest cliff face at the head of the large delta that flowed into Jezero Crater some time in the distant past.

The rover was about 80 feet away from the feature when the photo was snapped. Though scale in the photo is not provided, using the scale in the overview map below I would guess this slot canyon is several feet wide, with some spots narrow enough that your body would touch both walls at spots. Its height is likely nor more than 20 feet high, at the very most.

On the overview map, the blue dots mark Perseverance’s location, in both the main map and the inset. The green dot marks where the helicopter Ingenuity presently sits. The red dotted line is my guess as to the future route of the rover up into the delta. The yellow lines indicate the area viewed in the mosaic.

Though hardly as deep as the many slot canyons found in the American southwest, that this slot exists on Mars is quite intriguing. Did it form like those southwestern slots from water flow? Probably not. More likely we are looking at a fracture produced by shifts in the entire delta itself, and then later widened by wind.

That the cliff shows multiple layers suggests the delta was laid down in multiple events, and that the fracture occurred after the delta was emplaced. That the layers on either side of the fracture appear to match up strengthens this conclusion. These layers also suggest that the layering is not simply in a series of small events. The layers are also grouped into larger aggregates, suggesting those larger groupings mark longer epochs, each with its own unique conditions.

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