Ingenuity Mars Helicopter prepares to lose contact with Earth

Against the background of all the tumultuous events taking place on Earth, we sometimes forget that a helicopter is flying on Mars. The Ingenuity aircraft made two flights at once, following directly after each other. These were the 65th and 66th successful takeoffs and landings. Two short “jumps” were strategically important to prepare the probe for the next phase of its mission, during which it would be cut off from communication with Earth.

Animation of Ingenuity flight on Mars

The 65th flight took place on November 2. Engineers managed to raise the helicopter to a height of 7 meters and keep it in the air for 48 seconds. The very next day, November 3, Ingenuity made another short flight lasting only two seconds, designed to test the aircraft and its systems. Telemetry confirmed its stable operation.

Mars in conjunction with the Sun

These two flights were important for preparing the helicopter for the upcoming Mars connection. During this event, which takes place approximately once every two years, Mars and Earth will be on opposite sides of the Sun. That is, in terms of ground observers, the Red Planet will hide behind our luminary. During this period, radio signals between the planets will be blocked, so “communication” with the Martian spacecraft will stop. Moreover, the disconnection of communication will be carried out in advance to avoid potential errors that may arise due to the influence of charged particles in the solar wind.

The conjunction of Mars with the Sun in terms of ground observers

The conjunction of Mars with the Sun will last about two weeks — from November 11 to November 25. During this period, it will be within 2° of our luminary in terms of ground observers. 

Photos from Ingenuity

Also, before the planned disconnection, Ingenuity sent several photos received during the last takeoffs. They were taken using a navigation camera mounted in the fuselage and pointed straight down to track the surface of the Red Planet during the flight.

Ingenuity helicopter in flight over the surface of Mars. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Ingenuity helicopter received this image using a high-resolution color camera during its 66th flight, which took place on November 3, 2023. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Ingenuity helicopter hovers just above the surface of Mars. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Scout and discoverer

Ingenuity landed inside the Martian Jezero crater with the Perseverance rover in February 2021. Its main goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to carry out a full-fledged flight on Mars even in conditions of a rarefied atmosphere, the pressure of which is only 1% of the atmospheric pressure on Earth. The 1.8-kilogram vehicle successfully proved this possibility in the spring of 2021 by making five short flights.

Ingenuity flight on Mars. Illustration:

At the moment, Ingenuity is acting as a scout for Perseverance. It has already completed 66 flights with a total duration of almost 119 minutes, covering a total of 14.5 km. This mission proved the success of engineering science and technology in the exploration of Mars and may open the way for further study of its aerodynamic aircraft.

Earlier we reported on how Ingenuity developed a record flight speed on Mars.

According to Space

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