Home Calling | NASA's Mars helicopter phones home breaking 63-day silence
NASA's connection with the intrepid Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has been re-established after a radio silence of more than two months, said the space agency on Friday.
The mini rotorcraft went on the ride, along with the Perseverance rover, to Mars in early 2021 and managed to survive well even after its mission, which was slated for 30 days and was aimed at proving its technology's feasibility in five test flights.
The rotorcraft, since then, has been deployed many times and act as an aerial scout in assisting the Perseverance rover in looking for signs of ancient microbial life from billions of years ago when the red planet was comparatively much wetter and warmer than today.
On April 26, Ingenuity's 52nd flight was launched, however, the contact was lost by mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California as the rotorcraft descended to the surface after its two minute, 1,191-foot (363-meter) hop.
"The portion of Jezero Crater the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrains, which makes communications dropouts more likely," said Ingenuity team lead Josh Anderson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in a statement.
"The team’s goal is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance, which occasionally involves temporarily pushing beyond communication limits. "We're excited to be back in communications range with Ingenuity and receive confirmation of Flight 52,” Anderson added.
Hill breaks the communication
The scientists were expecting a loss of communications because of the presence of a hill between Ingenuity and Perseverance, which works as a relay between the Earth and the drone.
Nonetheless, "this has been the longest we've gone without hearing from Ingenuity so far in the mission," said Joshua Anderson, Ingenuity team lead at JPL.
"Ingenuity is designed to take care of itself when communication gaps like this occur, but we all still had a sense of relief finally hearing back," he added.
So far, the data received indicates that the helicopter is in good shape. If everything is normal in further health checks, Ingenuity will be geared up for its next flight westwards and will head to a rocky outcrop which the Perseverance team will be exploring.
This is not the first time that Ingenuity has gone through downed communications. An ancient river delta was being scoured by the helicopter when it went missing for around six days in April, "an agonisingly long time," wrote chief engineer Travis Brown in a blog post.