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Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Faces New Challenges After Losing Contact With Perseverance

Last week, NASA’s Ingenuity little helicopter lost communication with its buddy Perseverance on Mars. Luckily, the link between the two robotic partners was re-established, but the helicopter has new challenges to face until it can return to normal operations, which includes scouting a new area on the Red Planet for the Perseverance rover.
NASA Ingenuity helicopter 7 photos
This annotated image depicts the multiple flights and two different routesIngenuity helicopter snaps image of Séítah region on MarsNASA Ingenuity helicopterIngenuity helicopter snaps image of Séítah region on MarsIngenuity helicopter snaps image of Séítah region on MarsIngenuity helicopter snaps image of Séítah region on Mars
For the first time since it took to the skies on Mars, the rotorcraft had missed what scientists call “a planned communications session” with the rover. Perseverance acts as the base station for Ingenuity, allowing the team here on Earth to command the little helicopter.

The anomaly that occurred last week still needs to be thoroughly investigated, but the team behind Ingenuity suspects what the cause was. According to the data obtained, the communications failure that took place on May 3red was caused by the helicopter entering a low-power mode.

That might’ve happened because the quantity of dust in the atmosphere has increased, and the temperatures have decreased since the Martian winter is getting closer. Dust is a powerful enemy for solar-powered spacecraft, and Ingenuity is no exception.

The sunlight that hits the panels has been diminished, and the rotorcraft has been getting less power from its six lithium-ion batteries.

“We have always known that Martian winter and dust storm season would present new challenges for Ingenuity, specifically colder sols, an increase in atmospheric dust, and more frequent dust storms,”
said Ingenuity Team Lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Even if the connection between the Ingenuity and Perseverance has been restored, scientists are still considering possible future communication dropouts. To ensure that the helicopter’s batteries will get enough energy, the teams have come up with an ingenious plan. The new commands received by Ingenuity instruct it to lower the point at which its heaters (which are crucial to maintaining its components within operational temperatures) are turned on.

Although this allows Ingenuity to save a lot of battery power, it does expose its components to the cold Martian night. The teams hope that the helicopter will survive the next few days in which it will soak up as much sunlight as it can to resume regular operations.

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