Communications with the Ingenuity helicopter are interrupted

Image for article titled NASA Loses Contact With Ingenuity Helicopter Over Mars

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Last week, the helicopter naivety NASA managed to re-establish connection with the Perseverance rover after a brief interruption in communications. NASA blamed the arrival of the Martian winter and made some adjustments. This Thursday, however, the intrepid helicopter did not attend its appointment with the rover for first time since it arrived on the planet in February 2021.

The mission team believes that Ingenuity has entered a low-power mode after its lithium-ion batteries suffered a critical loss of power. That loss is almost certainly due to the Martian winter, which brings more airborne dust and lower temperatures. The dust causes the helicopter’s solar panels to receive less light.

The Perseverance Rover is on a mission to find traces of ancient microbial life on Mars. Ingenuity, meanwhile, became the first aircraft to take off from another planet on April 19. The two robots have their own communication channel. Small antennas on the helicopter allow it to communicate with Perserverance and thus with Earth through NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Ingenuity has an alarm that wakes him up to communicate with Perseverance from time to time, but on May 3 the helicopter did not report as usual. The reason was a loss of power during the night that reset the on-board clock precisely in charge of scheduling his appointments with Perseverance. The sun recharged the helicopter’s batteries, but its internal systems were still out of sync.ronized with those of the Rover. When Ingenuity sent the signal from him, Perseverance wasn’t listening.

Two days later, mission control managed to fix the communication problem by having Perseverance spend an entire day listening for the signal from the helicopter. Ingenuity finally made contact on May 5 at 11:45 local time on Mars. Although the call was brief, it served to let mission technicians know that the battery was working and the panels were recharging.

Image for article titled NASA Loses Contact With Ingenuity Helicopter Over Mars

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Ingenuity is not exactly prepared to withstand the rigors of the Martian winter. His rotor was designed to last just 30 days, but the tiny 19-inch, 4-pound helicopter exceeded all expectations and recently got a mission extension, helping Perseverance explore the terrain around it. His new job was to fly over Mars to recommend Perseverance the best routes through the rugged terrain.

“We knew from the beginning that the Martian winter was going to bring new challenges to Ingenuity, especially the colder days and frequent dust storms,” Explain Teddy Txanetos, leader of the Ingenuity team at JPL. “Each new flight and each new kilometer beyond the original 30 days pushes the helicopter over its limits.”

For now, the team has come up with a plan to help the helicopter survive the coming winter. The plan is to vary the limits at which the helicopter activates its heating system in relation to the depletion of its batteries. Now, instead of draining your battery trying to get warm, Ingenuity shuts down cold to save battery life. This allows you to save energy during the day to stay warm at night.

“Our priority right now is to maintain communication with Perseverance in the coming days, but we are aware that there are many challenges ahead.” comments Tzanetos. “We are confident that we will be able to build up enough power to return to baseline and continue our mission in the coming weeks.”

Even if right now the plan failed and Ingenuity never woke up again, the little helicopter has been able to make 28 flights when its technicians only expected 5. It has more than earned its ticket to space posterity.

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