Ingenuity's View of Sand Going Into Conjunction
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter captured this view on Nov. 3, 2023, of its parking spot during Mars solar conjunction – a period when the Sun is between Earth and Mars, limiting communications. Ingenuity will use its color camera during this period to take time-lapse images of sand grains to learn more about how they move on the Red Planet. In the upper left of the image, one of the helicopter's legs is visible just out of frame. Just to the right of that is one of several "footprints" made before the helicopter lifted off on a previous flight to reposition itself.
During conjunction, hot, ionized gas being expelled from the Sun's corona can potentially corrupt radio signals sent from Earth to NASA's fleet of Mars spacecraft, leading to unexpected behaviors. So, during this time, engineers don't send any commands, but the spacecraft do send their health data back to Earth.
After conjunction, scientists will look through Ingenuity's imagery and see if any sand grains were blown by the wind. They plan to correlate this imagery with weather data collected by NASA's Perseverance rover, which is parked 3,471 feet (1,058 meters) away during conjunction. Wind and sand are major drivers of change on the Martian landscape, and scientists hope they will better understand these processes by studying the wind strength needed to lift sand particles.
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which also manages the technology demonstration project for NASA Headquarters. It is supported by NASA's Science, Aeronautics Research, and Space Technology mission directorates. NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, and NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided significant flight performance analysis and technical assistance during Ingenuity's development. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design assistance and major vehicle components. Lockheed Martin Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System. JPL is managed for the agency by Caltech in Pasadena, California.