The iconic Mars Helicopter fell silent, leaving the anxious NASA team in the dark

An image of a Creativity helicopter on the surface of Mars, captured by the Perseverance Rover using one of its cameras.

Late last week, NASA ingenuity helicopter She managed to re-establish her connection with perseverance rover After a brief interruption of communication. The space agency says a looming winter is likely to blame, and is making adjustments as a result.

On Thursday, Creativity – mercifully – sent a signal of perseverance after the intrepid helicopter missed a scheduled communications session. It was the first time since the couple landed together on Mars in February 2021 that Ingenuity missed an appointment, according to to NASA.

The team behind the mission believes Ingenuity entered a low-power state to conserve energy, and did so in response to the six lithium-ion batteries dropping below a critical threshold. This was likely due to the approach of winter, when more dust appears in the Martian atmosphere and temperatures become cooler. Dust blocks the amount of sunlight that reaches the helicopter’s solar array, which charges its batteries.

The persevering rover is on a mission Find a guide Ancient microbial life on Mars, while a much smaller probe companion, Creativity, became the first powered aircraft Leaves From the surface of another planet on April 19, 2021. The two robots share a line of communication, with persistence relaying messages of creativity to Earth. Ingenuity uses small antennas to communicate with persistence, exchanging data that is then routed to the rover’s main computer and transmitted to Earth through NASA’s Deep Space Network (a global set of radio antennas).

Creativity has an alarm that wakes the helicopter for scheduled communication sessions with perseverance. But on May 3, Ingenuity was not attending its daily scheduled data exchange after the field-programmable gate array lost power overnight, causing the helicopter’s onboard clock to reset (the gateway array manages Ingenuity’s operational status, turning its electronic systems on and off). to conserve energy). Sunshine recharged the Ingenuity batteries the next morning, but the helicopter’s clock is now out of sync with the Perseverance Clock. By the time Ingenuity was able to send a signal, the rover was no longer listening.

Two days later, the mission control center set out to fix the pair’s communication problem by programming the probe to spend approximately 429 sols (a Martian day, which lasts slightly longer than a day on Earth) listening for the helicopter’s signal. Finally, Ingenuity’s call came on May 5 at 11:45 a.m. Mars local time. Although short, Ingenuity’s call reassured the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that the helicopter’s battery was intact and the solar array was recharging its batteries.

The ingenuity isn’t quite built to withstand the harsh Martian winter nights, as the helicopter is designed to last only 30 Mars days on Mars. But the helicopter, which is 19 inches (48 cm) high and 4 pounds (1.8 kg) far past its test flights, recently received a extend its mission To aid perseverance in exploring the terrain of Mars. Creativity will now fly over the surface of Mars, advising consoles to persevere on the most optimal routes.

Teddy Zanitos, chief creative officer at JPL, said in a statement statment. “Every trip and every mile of distance traveled outside of our original 30 Martian mission has pushed the spacecraft to its limits on every Martian day.”

For now, the team has devised a plan to help the small helicopter survive the looming winter. The newly issued orders “the point at which the helicopter turns on the power of its heaters from when the battery drops below 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 degrees Celsius) to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius), according to NASA, which added that “the helicopter then shuts down quickly, instead of consuming battery charge with heaters.” This should allow Ingenuity to accumulate battery charge during the day, which can then be used to survive the frigid nights.

“Our top priority is to maintain communication with Ingenuity for the next few days, but until then, we know there will be significant challenges ahead,” Tzanitos said. “We hope to be able to accumulate the battery charge in order to return to nominal operations and continue our mission in the coming weeks.”

Even dropping the call, the Ingenuity is still the small helicopter that can exceed expectations with a total of 28 flights recorded on the surface of Mars. It’s hard to believe now, but the original plan was for Ingenuity to make only five flights to the Red Planet.

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