The helicopter has since re-established communications, but the Martian winter could pose additional challenges in the coming months.
Ingenuity, the first aircraft to achieve controlled flight on another world, missed its scheduled communication session with Perseverance on May 3rd.
The rover acts as an Ingenuity base station that sends data from the helicopter back to Earth, receiving and transmitting NASA commands. This is the first communication outage since two robots landed on the Red Planet in February 2021.
A seasonal increase in atmospheric dust, characteristic of the approaching Martian winter, caused communications to go down as Ingenuity’s solar arrays failed to fully charge their batteries.
During the Martian night, one of the helicopter’s instruments went into a low power state and reset the clock.
“When the sun rose the next morning and the solar panels began to charge the batteries, the helicopter’s clock became out of sync with the clock on board the rover,” NASA said in a statement. “Basically, when Ingenuity decided it was time to contact Perseverance, the rover’s base station didn’t hear it.”
Luckily, the outages didn’t last long. Once NASA astronomers realized that Perseverance and Ingenuity were out of sync, they ordered the rover to be on standby to transmit Ingenuity signals. On May 5, NASA controllers confirmed that communication between the two vehicles had been restored.
Initially, Ingenuity was designed to conduct up to five experimental test flights over 30 Martian days, or “sols,” but the helicopter exceeded NASA’s expectations.
In the year since landing, Ingenuity has flown more than 6 km over the Red Planet, and in March, NASA extended the helicopter mission. The agency has scheduled flights until September.
But Ingenuity was not always designed to withstand the harsh Martian winter. The helicopter may have re-established contact with Perseverance, but not completely.
“We have always known that the Martian winter and dust storm season will create new challenges for Ingenuity, in particular colder days, more atmospheric dust and more frequent dust storms,” said Ingenuity team leader Teddy Tzanetos of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a message. NASA in Southern California. “Our main focus is to keep in touch with Ingenuity over the next few sols,” he added.
To conserve battery power and increase the chances of sustaining strong signals, NASA engineers reprogrammed Ingenuity’s heaters. In the next few days, when temperatures on Mars hit minus 40C at night, Ingenuity will shut down quickly rather than waste precious energy keeping the helicopter powered and warm. NASA hopes this will give the instrument a chance to feed and store enough energy to return to normal operation soon.
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