Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NASA reestablishes contact with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter

After a worrying silence for two days, NASA announced on Saturday evening (January 20) that it had re-established contact with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

The autonomous aircraft is flying on Mars and sending back data to Earth, and it’s also understandable that there may be some glitches along the way. The drone-like 1.6-foot-tall helicopter unexpectedly ceased communications with the Perseverance rover, which relays all transmissions between Ingenuity and Earth, on Thursday (January 18), toward the end of its 72nd flight on Mars.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team is currently reviewing the data from Ingenuity to understand what happened during its recent communication blackout. The Perseverance rover was able to pick up its signal after long-duration listening sessions.

The two robotic explorers, Ingenuity and Perseverance, arrived together on Mars in February 2021, landing in the ancient Jezero Crater, a former site of a large lake and a river delta. Perseverance is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars and collecting rock samples for future analysis on Earth, while Ingenuity is scouting ahead for the rover, providing aerial views and identifying interesting features.

Ingenuity has experienced blackouts before, last year, and was able to return to flight. However, it’s too early to say whether the helicopter will be able to return to flight this time. It’s impressive that Ingenuity has been running well past the original timeline of its mission, and we can only hope that it continues to provide valuable data and insights as it explores the Red Planet.

After successfully completing its initial five-flight test phase in the spring of 2021, Ingenuity has been granted an extended mission by NASA. However, the helicopter may need some assistance from Perseverance, its larger and more capable partner.