May 7, 2021
On April 30, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance Rover made history as the first spaceship to record sounds from another spaceship on another planet. During Ingenuity’s fourth flight, a microphone included with the SuperCam instrument on board Perseverance recorded the buzz of the leaves and the noise of the wind
The sounds of the whirring rotors of the Mars helicopter add another new dimension to the historic project.
For the first time, a spaceship on another planet recorded the sounds of a separate spacecraft. NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover listened with one of its two microphones as the Ingenuity helicopter flew for the fourth time on April 30, 2021. A new video combines recordings from the solar-powered helicopter by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z-Imager with audio from a microphone belonging to the rover’s SuperCam laser instrument.
The science of the sounds of Mars
The laser zaps stones from a distance and examines their vapor with a spectrometer to determine their chemical composition. The instrument’s microphone records the sound of these laser strikes, which provides information about the physical properties of the targets such as their relative hardness. The microphone can also pick up ambient noises such as the Martian wind.
With Perseverance parked 80 meters from the helicopter’s take-off and landing site, the rover mission was unsure whether the microphone would pick up flight noises. Even during flight, when the helicopter’s blades spin at 2,537 rpm, the sound is greatly attenuated by the thin Martian atmosphere. It is further obscured in the first moments of flight by gusts of wind from Mars. However, listen carefully and the hum of the helicopter will be faintly heard above the sound of those winds.
For the first time, a spaceship on another planet recorded the sounds of a separate spacecraft. NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover heard the Ingenuity helicopter, which flew for the fourth time on Mars, with its SuperCam microphone on April 30, 2021. Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / LANL / CNES / CNRS / ISAE-Supaéro
“This is a very good surprise,” said David Mimoun, professor of planetary science at the Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace (ISAE-SUPAERO) in Toulouse, France, and scientific director of the SuperCam Mars microphone. “We ran tests and simulations that told us that the microphone would hardly pick up the noise of the helicopter because the Martian atmosphere attenuates the propagation of the sound so much. We were lucky enough to register the helicopter at such a distance. This shot will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere. “
The scientists made the audio recorded in mono easier to hear by isolating the 84-hertz helicopter blade sound, reducing frequencies below 80 hertz and above 90 hertz, and increasing the volume of the remaining signal. Some frequencies have been cut to create the helicopter hum, which is loudest when the helicopter flies through the camera’s field of view.
“This is an example of how the various payload instrument suites complement each other resulting in information synergies,” said Soren Madsen, manager of payload development for endurance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. JPL developed and operates both Perseverance and Ingenuity. “In this particular case, we can use the microphone and video to watch the helicopter as if we were there, and additional information such as the Doppler shift confirms details of the flight path.”
SuperCam is managed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where the body unit for the instrument was developed. This part of the instrument includes several spectrometers, control electronics, and software. The mast unit, including the microphone, was designed and built by several laboratories of the CNRS (French research center), ISAE-Supaéro and French universities under the contracting authority of the Center National d’Etudes Spatiales (French space agency). Calibration targets on the rooftop are provided by the University of Valladolid, Spain.
Arizona State University is leading the operation of the Mastcam-Z instrument in partnership with Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. The Mastcam-Z team consists of dozens of scientists, engineers, operations specialists, managers and students from various institutions.
More about ingenuity
The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was built by JPL, which also manages the technology demonstration project for NASA headquarters. It is supported by NASA’s Science, Aeronautical Research, and Space Technology Mission Directorates. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, provided extensive flight performance analysis and technical assistance during the development of Ingenuity. AeroVironment Inc., Qualcomm, and SolAero also provided design support and key vehicle components. Lockheed Martin Space designed and manufactured the Mars Helicopter Delivery System.
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More about endurance
A primary objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including finding signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the geology and past climate of the planet, pave the way for human exploration of the red planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rocks and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), would send spaceships to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and bring them back to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon-to-Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the moon in preparation for human exploration of the red planet.
JPL, managed for NASA by Caltech of Pasadena, California, built and manages the operation of the Perseverance rover.
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