Ingenuity helicopter survives Martian dust storms and winter

(ORDO NEWS) — Dust storms and changing seasons will limit the ability of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter to fly for the next few months, a project engineer said on May 27.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a video on May 27 compiled from images taken by Ingenuity during its record-breaking flight on April 8.

During this flight, the helicopter covered 704 meters at a speed of 5.5 meters per second, which was the longest and fastest flight for a tiny helicopter.

The flight was the 25th for Ingenuity, which was originally scheduled to make no more than five flights within a few weeks in April 2021. The last and 28th helicopter flight took place on 29 April.

However, on May 3, Ingenuity lost contact with the Perseverance rover, which serves as a relay between the helicopter and controllers on Earth.

Communication was restored two days later, and engineers concluded that the rover had entered a “low power state” when the battery level dropped below the low limit.

In a May 6 statement, JPL said increased dust in the atmosphere is blocking sunlight, reducing the output of Ingenuity’s solar arrays.

The lab said it is taking steps to reduce the helicopter’s battery drain, such as lowering the temperature at which the helicopter turns on the heaters.

“We hope to be able to build up battery power to return to operations and continue our mission in the coming weeks,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team leader at JPL, said in a May 6 statement. Mission leaders on May 27 at JPL said only that “the team is looking forward to the next flight to Mars.”

“We are currently experiencing the worst of the Martian dust storm season. The skies are covered in dust and solar array generation has dropped significantly,” Jaakko Karras, chief engineer of Ingenuity, said after speaking May 27 at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference.

However, he said, Ingenuity is now moving towards winter, when there is less solar power and colder temperatures.

“We hope that if we manage to survive both,” he said, referring to dust storms and winter, “in a few months we will begin to return to the Martian spring, when we will again become very energetic and return to work “.

This will limit Ingenuity’s ability to continue flying. Karras said it may be possible for the mission to make adjustments, such as park the helicopter at an angle to increase the amount of sunlight reaching the panels, an approach previously used for solar-powered rovers such as Spirit and Opportunity.

However, he noted that it can be difficult to land a helicopter at the right angle. So far, the helicopter is “mostly stationary,” he said.

He didn’t say how long it would be before Ingenuity could fly again, or how often. “Of course, it will be at least a couple of months before we get back to our usual luxurious energy levels,” he said.

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