Nasa’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars re-establishes contact after two months

It is the first aircraft to fly on another planet

An illustration of the Ingenuity helicopter. Nasa
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A miniature helicopter on Mars has re-established contact with Nasa, two months after it was lost.

Ingenuity, the first aircraft to fly on another planet, had gone on one of its routine flights on April 26 but lost contact with mission control as it attempted a landing.

Mars is known to be a “graveyard for spacecraft”, because of the planet’s powerful dust storms and unstable terrain that can damage rovers and other technology.

The disconnection was expected by Nasa because a hill stood between Ingenuity’s landing location and the Perseverance rover – which carried the helicopter to the surface of Mars in 2021.

The helicopter “speaks” with mission control through the rover, but communication between the two was blocked because of the hill.

On June 28, when the rover went back to the landing area, the signal was re-established.

Nasa reveals what its 'Ingenuity' helicopter sounds like flying on the Red Planet

Nasa reveals what its 'Ingenuity' helicopter sounds like flying on the Red Planet

“In anticipation of this loss of communications, the Ingenuity team had already developed recontact plans for when the rover would drive back within range,” Nasa said in a statement.

“Contact was re-established June 28 when Perseverance crested the hill and could see Ingenuity again.”

Even though the loss of contact was expected, re-establishing it was not guaranteed with engineers unable to run health checks on the aircraft as there was no signal. There was also no way to tell what condition Ingenuity was in as it waited for Perseverance to come back in range.

Now that Nasa has contact again, mission control will run health checks before the helicopter can fly again.

“The portion of Jezero Crater that the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrain which makes communications dropouts more likely,” said Josh Anderson, the Ingenuity team lead at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The team’s goal is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance, which occasionally involves temporarily pushing beyond communication limits.

Ingenuity flew 63 metres above the Martian surface for 139 seconds for its 52nd flight in total and took images of the surface for the rover’s science team.

Ingenuity has four carbon-fibre blades arranged in two rotors that spin in opposite directions at 2,400 rotations per minute.

The high speed helps generate enough lift to become airborne in the thin Martian atmosphere.

It has six lithium-ion batteries for power and solar panels for recharging.

The aircraft is part of Nasa's most expensive Mars mission to date, at a cost of $2.5 billion.

The success of Ingenuity means that the US space agency can develop bigger, more powerful aircraft that can fly on other planets. and help engineers and scientists learn more about their geology and temperatures.

Updated: July 03, 2023, 10:48 AM