NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has captured images of space junk on the Mars. The debris were components of the landing gear that helped the Perseverance rover land on the Red Planet.
The images were shared on Wednesday which marked the one-year anniversary of Ingenuity’s first foray into Martian skies on April 19, 2021.
Flying 26 feet (8 meters) above ground and after a lot of maneuvering, the 4-pound Ingenuity chopper captured photos of the wreckage of a dust-covered, orange-and-white parachute and a backshell — or the protective cover, which stored the chute. As per NASA statement the backshell’s protective coating appears to have remained intact during Mars atmospheric entry.
Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact. Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute – at 70.5 feet (21.5 meters) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars – can be seen, but the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation. Several weeks of analysis will be needed for a more final verdict.
The Perseverance had landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, after a 300-million-mile journey that took seven months. Officials at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement that the landing gear held up pretty well. The backshell acted as a heat shield to the SUV-sized Perseverance (and the helicopter tucked in its belly) throughout its lengthy trek from Earth. During its descent toward the Martian surface, the rover deployed a parachute to slow it down and stick the landing at Jezero Crater — home to what was once an ancient river delta.
Since both pieces of hardware worked as expected, researchers hope studying the components that allowed for a safe landing can help them plan for future space missions. “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 now leads the effort to haul Martian samples back to Earth at JPL in Southern California, said in a statement.
“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.”
Space junk has emerged as a growing concern for space agencies in recent days. Space junk or debris as the name implies is any piece of machinery left by humans in space during exploration missions.
As more satellites are regularly launched into space, Earth’s orbit is getting more crowded and several people have expressed that humans are now polluting space too
At a technology conclave last year, an ISRO official had told that the space agency was working on futuristic technologies such as self-eating rockets and vanishing satellites as part of measures to reduce space debris. According to the Orbital Debris Quarterly News, the US has 4,144 spacecraft (active and defunct), and 5,126 objects that can be categorized as space debris in the earth’s orbit. China has 517 spacecraft, active and defunct, and 3,854 objects, including spent rocket bodies, orbiting the earth.
With inputs from Business Insider India