Mission complete: NASA says goodbye to the brave Mars helicopter

NASA announced the termination of the Ingenuity helicopter mission. At least one of its blades was damaged during the last flight. This means that Ingenuity will no longer rise into the sky of the Red Planet. 

Ingenuity’s last flight

On January 6, the Ingenuity helicopter made its 71st flight. The vehicle failed to complete its program: due to a malfunction in the navigation system, it was forced to make an early landing. This was due to the fact that the helicopter’s route ran over a sandy area, where there were practically no rocks or any other formations that could be used as landmarks. 

The shadow cast by the damaged blade of the Ingenuity helicopter. Source: Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After the early landing, NASA specialists decided to conduct a test that would certify Ingenuity’s readiness for new flights. It took place on January 18. During its course, the drone rose to a height of 12 meters. Alas, during the landing, NASA lost contact with the helicopter. 

Subsequently, contact with the drone was restored. However, the images transmitted to Earth demonstrated a very unpleasant truth: during the emergency landing, Ingenuity damaged at least one of its blades. The drone’s photo of the shadow of its rotor clearly demonstrates the missing fragment. After studying the images and telemetry, the specialists of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory came to the conclusion that it was impossible to continue operating the drone. Thus, the 72nd flight was its last.

Legacy of the Martian helicopter

Although the point has been made in the history of Ingenuity, it is worth recalling that it has exceeded the nominal requirements of its designers many times. The drone was launched to Mars as a demonstrator. Its main task was to test the possibility of studying the Red Planet using heavier-than-air vehicles. 

Image of the Martian surface taken by Ingenuity during its 70th flight. Source: Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity has brilliantly coped with this task. Formally, it was designed for five flights and 30 days of operation. In reality, Ingenuity spent almost three years on Mars and made 72 flights, during which it flew about 17 km. 

The success of Ingenuity was one of the main reasons why NASA approved the Dragonfly mission. It provides for the study of Titan with the help of an aircraft. The Aerospace Administration has also decided to include a pair of similar Ingenuity drones in the Mars Sample Return mission, which aims to deliver samples of Martian soil to Earth. So, even though the last chapter in the history of Ingenuity has been completed, the legacy of the brave Martian helicopter will outlive it.

According to https://www.nasa.gov

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