(ORDO NEWS) — The Ingenuity helicopter nearly gave NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineers a heart attack when it missed a scheduled communication session with the Perseverance rover.
This was the first time the rover had missed a rover communication check since it arrived on Mars. Checking the connection is critical because the helicopter only communicates with the rover to send data back to scientists on the ground.
“Resourcefulness relies on Perseverance as a base station that allows it to send data to and receive commands from Earth,” JPL said in a statement.
The helicopter was extremely effective in the rover’s search for ancient microbial life on an alien planet.
Why did the helicopter lose contact with the rover?
The Ingenuity team determined the reason for the loss of communication between the helicopter and the rover. Based on the latest data transmitted to Earth, the team found that the loss of communication on May 3 was due to low power on the helicopter’s solar panels.
The low power was caused by a seasonal increase in dust in the Martian atmosphere and cooler temperatures as winter approaches.
“Dust reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the solar array, reducing the ability of Resourcefulness to charge its lithium-ion batteries.
When the battery state of charge dropped, the helicopter’s field programmable gate array (FPGA) shut down,” the scientists reported.
When the FPGA loses power during a Martian night, the helicopter’s onboard clock, which determines when to communicate with Perseverance, is reset. Ingenuity heaters, necessary to keep electronics and other components within operating temperatures, also turned off.
When the sun rose the next morning and the solar panels began to charge the batteries, the helicopter’s clock was no longer synchronized with the clock on board the rover. In fact, when Resourcefulness decided it was time to contact Perseverance, the rover’s base station was not in communication standby mode.
Then the alarmed engineers switched the rover into continuous communication standby mode, and on May 5 the helicopter got in touch.
The Ingenuity team is now working around the clock to keep the helicopter operational as the Martian winter approaches.
“We’ve always known that the Martian winter and dust storm season will present new challenges for Inventiveness, in particular colder solstices, increased atmospheric dust and more frequent dust storms,” said Ingenuity Team Leader Teddy Tzanetos.
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