NASA on Monday announced that its Perseverance rover was able to re-establish contact with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on Saturday after a communications blackout that started during the rotorcraft’s last flight on January 18.
Ingenuity was completing its 72nd flight on Mars on January 18. That was a quick pop-up vertical test flight to check the helicopter’s systems after an unplanned early landing during the previous flight. The Perseverance rover acts as a relay between the helicopter and Earth and sends back data indicating that it climbed to its assigned maximum altitude of 12 metres.
But during its planned descent, communications between the helicopter and rover terminated early, before the touchdown. But on Saturday, the space agency was able to re-establish contact between Ingenuity and NASA’s Perseverance rover. The helicopter has been determined to be power-positive and is sitting vertically on the red planet’s surface.
Now, NASA needs to run further diagnostic checks and will then command Ingenuity to take photos around its surface, followed by a spin test.
The Ingenuity rover launched on July 30, 2020, within the Perseverance rover’s belly. Perseverance landed on the Martian surface on February 18, 2021 but it only deployed Ingenuity on April 4 that year after reaching a suitable “airfield” location. The rover’s job is to look for signs of ancient life while collecting samples that could be sent back to Earth during future missions that are part of the Mars sample return program.
Ingenuity’s mission sounds a lot simpler but is a monumental achievement — to test powered controlled flight on another world for the first time. It managed to do that when it rose to a height of little more than 3 metres and hovered for 30 seconds on April 19, 2021. Powered flight on Mars is particularly difficult on Mars because of multiple reasons.
On Earth, you can probably walk into a store and buy a toy helicopter that can fly as far and as high as Ingenuity ever has during one flight. But Mars has a thin atmosphere with only about one per cent the air pressure at surface compared to the Earth. This means that the helicopter’s 1.2-metre wide have to spin much faster and harder to lift the aircraft off the ground.
Added to that is the complication of communicating with and commanding a helicopter on a planet that is around 50 million kilometres away from our planet. This means that it can take between five and twenty minutes to send a one-way message to the helicopter.
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First uploaded on: 23-01-2024 at 1:14 PM IST