Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter mission ends due to rotor damage

Nasa’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter, which made history by achieving the first powered flight on another world, has ended its mission at the Red Planet after surpassing expectations and making dozens more flights than planned.

The helicopter, a box-shaped drone with a pair of 1.2-metre-long carbon-fibre blades, reached the Red Planet in February 2021 by riding on the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover. It first lifted off the Martian surface on April 19, becoming the first aircraft to fly on another world.

Originally designed as a technology demonstration to perform only five flights and last about a month, Ingenuity lasted for three years and performed 72 flights, exploring new terrains and providing valuable data for future missions. The aircraft flew more than 14 times farther than planned while logging more than two hours of total flight time.

Unfortunately, the helicopter suffered rotor damage on January 18 during its 72nd flight in Jezero Crater on Mars. While the helicopter remains upright and in communication with ground controllers, imagery of its last flight sent to Earth this week indicates that one or more of its rotor blades sustained damage during landing and is no longer capable of flight.

“The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to an end,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a statement. “That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best – make the impossible possible. Through missions like Ingenuity, NASA is paving the way for future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond.”

Ingenuity helicopter was built to demonstrate the possibility of flying under Martian conditions and ended up operating for over 1,000 Martian days and exploring a wide range of terrains and 48 airfields. Not only did it push the limits of Martian aerodynamics, but it also acted as a scout to help the Perseverance rover find new areas to explore.

On its last flight, Ingenuity encountered an emergency landing and couldn’t be located. Mission Control then instructed the helicopter to take off and fly back into view to locate it. However, communications with Perseverance were lost during the flight, and Ingenuity landed hard.

The reason for this is still being investigated, but images captured by Perseverance revealed that the rotor blades were damaged. This unfortunate incident grounded Ingenuity after amassing over two hours of total flight time during its service life.