NASA hid the loss of communication with the Ingenuity helicopter for six days

Ingenuity is still breaking records on Mars, but it’s getting harder to keep in touch with it. NASA was alarmed to report that it had been unable to contact its Mars helicopter for six days. Chief Engineer Travis Brown explained that after the 49th flight, radio contact with it was lost for six Martian days — a little less than six days and six hours of Earth time.

This color image obtained by the Ingenuity camera shows the Castell Henllys area in the Jezero crater on Mars. This picture, like the others, was taken during the 48th flight, about two weeks before the Perseverance rover reached this area. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

At first, NASA specialists were not too worried. According to the chief engineer of the Ingenuity project Travis Brown, since the 685th sol (Martian day) from the beginning of the mission, the helicopter switched to the “night survival” mode and back, which made daily contact difficult, so the lack of communication for one or two days did not bother anyone. But on the 755th Martian day, the contact was completely lost.

At that time, Perseverance got into a “communication pit” that interfered with  connection. Therefore, NASA experts were waiting for the rover to move to another location and help “wake up” Ingenuity. But it also did not help, and the situation began to cause some concern in the agency, since there was no total absence of radio communication during the entire mission. Even during powerful dust storms, the helicopter showed at least some signs of activity.

Finally, on the 761st day, Ingenuity sent a reception confirmation signal, repeating it the next day, but it did not respond in any way to attempts to establish communication. Among other reasons, the Perseverance base station antenna was stretched too low, which also interfered with stable communication. 

This map shows the location of the rover and helicopter (green dot). The red dot indicates the places where communication with the helicopter is impossible. Yellow marks the point closest to the helicopter, where the rover is located before performing the 50th flight. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As Perseverance moved, new problems arose. It is important that the helicopter moves ahead of the rover, for technical reasons it should not fly closer than 45 m. 

Now the rover is moving along the narrow channels of the ancient dried-up river delta in the Jezero crater. Since Ingenuity stopped moving forward and the rover continued moving, it was important to get the helicopter moving as well. Fortunately, the team managed to download the flight plan, and the drone still fulfilled it, climbing to a record height of 18 m and passing a path of more than 300 m. It was its 50th successful flight, taking place on the 763rd Martian day since the start of the mission.

However, the worst is yet to come. Judging by the data obtained, the dust covering the solar panel will lead to the fact that Ingenuity will receive less and less sunlight to recharge internal batteries, and it will be more and more difficult to “reach” it every time.

Earlier, we reported on how NASA showed the incredible flight of the Ingenuity Martian helicopter on Earth.

According to NASA

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