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Saturday June 22, 2024

Mars helicopter Ingenuity contacts home, ends two-month silent stretch

Ingenuity's team of handlers expects the chopper to return to skies in weeks pending further inspections

By Web Desk
July 02, 2023
This picture shows the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. — AFP/File
This picture shows the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. — AFP/File

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity recently contacted its handlers on Earth through its robotic partner, the Perseverance rover, on June 28, breaking a two-month silence after its last communication was recorded on April 26. 

Nasa officials announced Thursday that the Mars helicopter had phoned home for the first time after the 4-pound (1.8 kilogrammes) chopper went dark towards the end of its 52nd flight on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater, in April.

"The portion of Jezero Crater the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrain, which makes communications dropouts more likely," Ingenuity team lead Josh Anderson, of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement.

"The team's goal is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance, which occasionally involves temporarily pushing beyond communication limits," Anderson added. "We're excited to be back in communication range with Ingenuity and receive confirmation of Flight 52."

Ingenuity covered 1,191 feet (363 metres) of ground on the 139-second-long Flight 52. Officials from Nasa stated that the main objectives of the flight were to reposition the helicopter and take pictures for Perseverance's science team.

According to Space.com, the most recent flight data indicates that Ingenuity is still in good condition. The chopper is also expected to take to the skies again in the coming weeks if additional inspections support that, according to team members.

In February 2021, Ingenuity and life-seeking, sample-gathering Perseverance arrived at Jezero. 

The primary mission of the chopper, a five-flight campaign demonstrating the viability of aerial exploration on Mars, was successfully completed very quickly. Following that, Ingenuity set out on a lengthy mission, during which it acted as a scout for Perseverance.

Persistence must be the intermediary in all communications to and from Ingenuity. The two mission teams had anticipated the recent period of silence, so this explains it. The rover had vanished from the helicopter's view behind a hill, and it was not seen again until June 28.

Recently, Ingenuity's handlers have also struggled with other communication problems. For instance, the chopper unexpectedly dropped out in early April for six days, giving the mission team pause.