NASA initially lost, and then managed to restore communication with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter. This happened at the moment when it was completing another flight.
Ingenuity’s Problematic Flight
On January 6, Ingenuity ascended into the Martian sky for the 71st time. However, the drone failed to complete the flight program: due to a malfunction in the navigation system, it was forced to make an early landing. According to the engineers, this was due to the fact that the helicopter’s route lay over a sandy area where there were practically no rocks or any other formations that could be used as a landmark.
To make sure that the incident did not cause any damage to the drone and that it was able to continue to carry out its program, the engineers decided to conduct a short test flight. During its process, Ingenuity had to rise to a height of 12 meters, hover, and then return to the same point from where it took off.
Mysterious silence of the Martian helicopter
On January 18, Ingenuity made a successful takeoff and rose to the planned height of 12 meters. However, at the moment when the drone began to descend, the Perseverance rover lost contact with it.
The #MarsHelicopter executed Flight 72 on Jan. 18, but on its descent, communication between Ingenuity and @NASAPersevere terminated prior to touchdown. The team is analyzing available data and considering next steps to reestablish comms. https://t.co/Mq6b0iYMHX
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) January 20, 2024
NASA has lost touch with Ingenuity several times in the past. This was due to the difficult terrain at the landing site, as well as a lack of energy. However, the current case turned out to be much more serious, because the loss of communication occurred in a place where nothing should have interfered.
After a few stressful days, the Perseverance rover still managed to catch a signal from the drone. However, what exactly happened to it and what led to such an unexpected loss of communication is still unknown.
Good news today: We've reestablished contact with the #MarsHelicopter after instructing @NASAPersevere to perform long-duration listening sessions for Ingenuity’s signal.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) January 21, 2024
The team is reviewing the new data to better understand the unexpected comms dropout during Flight 72. https://t.co/KvCVwhZ5Rk
Recall that Ingenuity is a technology demonstrator. It was originally 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. Even if the device suffered some damage during its last flight, it has long written itself into the history of cosmonautics.
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