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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/.

Question: What are the constraints on the soil or regolith at the "drop point" where the helicopter will be allowed to fall to the ground and I assume after the rover drives a safe distance away, will have to take off from? Can the soil be too coarse or too fine? Or will they look for a clean, flat rock surface instead?


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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  • $\begingroup$ companion question: Perseverance Rover to drive carefully for months while helicopter hangs from underside? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 11 '20 at 0:09
  • $\begingroup$ Do you want a citation from NASA (members) or a well reasoned answer from one of the community members ? $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    May 2 '20 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Cornelisinspace we write answer for everyone to vote on; without seeing it who can "how well reasoned" others will find it. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 2 '20 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ "..Or will they look for a clean, flat rock surface..." I suppose you mean NASA (members) ? $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    May 2 '20 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Cornelisinspace the instance of "they" in my question refers to the people who determine the "constraints on the soil or regolith at the 'drop point' where the helicopter will be allowed to fall to the ground". $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 2 '20 at 14:03
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On what kind of martian soil or rock will the Perseverance rover drop its helicopter?

A flat surface made from pebbly regolith and some small exposed flat rock, but with enough texture for the helicopter's navigation cameras.

The first image shows a detailed image of the soil under the rover where the cover was dropped, the second shows the "runway" where Ingenuity's first flight(s) will be executed, from the

So that area naturally needs to be flat and it needs to have few obstacles; rocks and the like, that could pose a danger to the helicopter on landing.

And that area should be situated within a larger flight zone. The flight zone is where the flights themselves will happen… and we’re looking for something that has enough texture. That means things that the helicopter can look at with its cameras while it’s flying in order to keep track of where it is at.

So we began to look for an airfield and a surrounding flight zone, first using satellite imagery, and then as it became available, images taken by the rover itself, after it landed.

For more on needing texture for navigation see Mars Helicopter Technology Demonstrator (Canham et al. 2018, AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference, also here and archived) including this bit:

These areas would have to have low slopes and sufficient surface texture for accurate tracking by the demonstrator’s navigation filter during flight and few rocks higher than 5 cm to interfere with its landing. The rover would need to image the area being considered at higher resolution than from orbit using stereo rover Navigation camera images to determine if it meets the requirements. If the area for landed helicopter operations is a patch about 10 m × 10 m and outbound sorties lengths are 100 m, then analysis of orbital images and stereo digital elevation models indicates that the rover would need to traverse less than 200 m in over 90% of the landing ellipses to find suitable areas for deploying and flying the helicopter


From NASA JPL PIA24448:

The debris shield, a protective covering on the bottom of NASA's Perseverance rover, was released on March 21, 2021, the 30th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The debris shield protects the agency's Ingenuity helicopter during landing; releasing it allows the helicopter to rotate down out of the rover's belly. This image was taken by the WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) camera on the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals) instrument, located at the end of the rover's long robotic arm.

NASA JPL PIA24448 The debris shield, a protective covering on the bottom of NASA's Perseverance rover, was released on March 21, 2021

From the Mar 24, 2021 CNET Highlights video NASA reveals Ingenuity's first flight path on Mars!:

NASA reveals Ingenuity's first flight path on Mars

screenshot from NASA reveals Ingenuity's first flight path on Mars screenshot from NASA reveals Ingenuity's first flight path on Mars

click for larger size

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  • $\begingroup$ Cleaner version of one of your pics: mars.nasa.gov/system/resources/detail_files/… $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Mar 24 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ See also <mars.nasa.gov/system/resources/detail_files/…> The "Van Zyl Overlook" is where Percy will wait and observe the helicopter, named after a JPL engineer who died. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Mar 24 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon I like the ones I've chosen; the one on the left shows (what I believe is) the box where Ingenuity will first be dropped. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 24 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon yes, that's my personal guess what the small box is. It's the most likely region that could be so tightly spatially defined ahead of time. I could be wrong, maybe the rover will drive the full field first and that's the "end zone". (and yes I fixed that too, thanks!) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 24 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ @DrSheldon keep them, no problem! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 24 at 5:05

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