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The image below is cropped from the high resolution version of NASA's Mars Helicopter and Perseverance Rover PIA23824 and shows the helicopter in it's stowed position on the underside of the rover next to one of the rover's wheels.

The caption says:

The Mars Helicopter, visible in lower center of the image, was attached to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020. The helicopter will be deployed onto the Martian surface about two-and-a-half months after Perseverance lands.

For more information about the mission, go to https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.

To me this suggests the following interrelated questions:

  1. For about "about two-and-a-half months" the helicopter will be in danger of being hit by a passing rock as curiosity drives around the martian terrain. Will minimizing this risk require that the Perseverance rover drive more slowly, observe terrain more carefully, and for its route to be vetted by ground crews more thoroughly than after the helicopter is deployed?
  2. What is the vertical clearance for the helicopter when the rover is on a flat surface? From the photo it looks to be zero or even negative!

The Mars Helicopter, visible in lower center of the image, was attached to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover at Kennedy Space Center on April 6, 2020.

click for full size or visit the NASA page linked above

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The helicopter and the deployment assembly are protected by a "debris shield" which is only dropped shortly before helicopter deployment. This shield is formed out of carbon fiber and fully encompasses the entire helicopter and deployment assembly. The upper lip of this bucket- or violin-case like shield is pressed against the bottom panel of Perseverance's body. In this video, you can see a the full deployment process of the helicopter and here are some screenshots from the video:

shield up shield down

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  • $\begingroup$ Also, is there any information on driving more carefully because of the reduced clearance? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 11 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the edit! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 11 at 23:56
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No, Perseverance will not drive for months with the helicopter stowed on its underside.

From the Surface Phase of the Mars 2020 Perseverance Launch Press Kit I got the information below.

The first 30 sols after landing will be a commissioning phase within which the rover will perform a short drive test.

After that Perseverance will need to find a flat area where the rover will deploy the helicopter and drive a safe distance away.

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