NASA just released video and audio of its mini Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, flying around the Martian surface during its fourth flight test, as captured by the craft’s robotic partner Perseverance from nearly a football field’s distance away.
The footage, combining audio and video of an Ingenuity flight test for the first time, starts off with the soft, rumbling hum of the Martian wind. Ingenuity can be seen stationary on the surface in the right-hand corner of the frame before taking off for flight. When the copter ascends, the ambient hum intensifies; the faint, muffled sound of Ingenuity’s twin rotor blades spinning at 2,537 RPM picks up and it eventually zips across the frame.
Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z device captured the video, a sequence of hundreds of images compiled at six frames per second. That camera has returned stunning images and video of Ingenuity in the past, but those views were never synced with audio until now.
Listen closely— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) May 7, 2021
The microphone on @NASAPersevere's SuperCam caught sound during #MarsHelicopter’s 4th flight. The rumbling is Martian wind, but those rhythmic hums come from Ingenuity. Scientists made it easier to hear by isolating the 84 Hz blade sound. https://t.co/uua5h40BPL pic.twitter.com/fGWlMRpVji
The audio was recorded using Perseverance’s SuperCam laser instrument, a device that zaps Mars rocks with a laser beam and records the zapping sounds with an onboard microphone. While a spectrometer visually analyzes the makeup of the dust kicked up by the laser, the microphone captures audio to help scientists get an aural idea of how hard the rock is.
That microphone worked overtime last Friday to bring us the first AV experience of Ingenuity’s fourth flight in its legendary test campaign.
David Mimoun, science lead for SuperCam’s microphone, said in a statement that prior tests on Earth indicated the device would barely be able to hear Ingenuity’s flight. But hearing the gentle hum of the helicopter’s blades on Mars was “a very good surprise,” he said. “This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere.”
The four-pound helicopter arrived on Mars nestled inside NASA’s Perseverance rover on February 18th and was deployed on the surface on April 4th. Its first flight on April 19th made history as the first to take place on another world. Initially, engineers planned to conduct just five flight demonstration tests with Ingenuity inside a 31-day window so Perseverance — working as both a photographer and communications hub for Ingenuity — can carry on with its primary mission of hunting for signs of ancient life.
But engineers, impressed with the helicopter’s performance, gave Ingenuity another 31-day mission to carry out a few more flights while Perseverance begins its hunt nearby.