Creative helicopter on Mars ghosts NASA scientists

Creativity Helicopter broke new (aerial?) ground in April 2019, When it transmitted its first flight data – the first powered and controlled flight on another planet– to NASA scientists on Earth.

But now, it appears that Ingenuity has no interest in communicating with its engineering team at all; Recently, the Mars Helicopter contacted NASA scientists only sporadically and unexpectedly.

The communication breakdown makes it difficult for the Ingenuity team to guide the rover around the Martian landscape — and, more importantly, both within range but safely away from the Perseverance rover, the real star of the Mars 2020 program.

according to Status update Written by Travis Brown, Ingenuity Chief Engineer The connectivity problems began in earnest after the 49th Ingenuity flight on April 2, 2023, which set records for the helicopter’s altitude and airspeed.

After downlinking data from its 49th flight, the Ingenuity team failed to transmit instructions for the orbiter’s next flight.

Problems with Ingenuity’s communication go back further, Brown writes. Shortly after the orbiter’s 40th flight in January 2023, Ingenuity began to struggle with “deep outages” — periods when the helicopter slips into low-power mode, which keeps the rover alive through the harsh Martian winter nights. Last year, a low power situation caused by a cold NASA engineers gave similar concerns about the helicopter’s survivability.

It has become difficult to predict when creativity will awaken from these interruptions, making it difficult for the team to coordinate flights of the rollercoaster. All the while, the Chariot of Perseverance continued its march across the western edge of the Jezero Crater, searching a dried up river delta in search of areas of geological and bioastronomical interest.

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Graphic showing the location of the Ingenuity and Perseverance path near the disconnected helicopter.

On Sol 755, the team lost contact with the helicopter again, and there was radio silence for the following week (a solar excursion to Mars, or one Martian day, takes about 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds). The team is beginning to consider the possibility that creativity may be dead. Brown said blog post. But on the 761st and 762nd, individual radio sounds confirmed the brave space helicopter’s persistence.

The team determined that a Martian ridge between Perseverance and Creativity was impeding communications from the helicopter. Since creativity I went from a technical demonstration of flying on other worlds to a scout for perseverancetasked with investigating the Jezero Delta, the helicopter generally remained ahead of the rover’s expected trajectory.

This made the helicopter team’s 50th flight. They were able to transmit flight instructions to the rover as Perseverance approached it, and came within 262 feet (80 m) of the helicopter.

Brown noted that dust on the helicopter’s solar panels means a game of cat and mouse may continue, as Ingenuity may struggle to get power. Hopefully, the team will not experience a backlog similar to this Finished the Insight mission late last year.

More: Looks like NASA needs a second babysitter for the return of an ambitious Mars sample

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