Mars helicopter Ingenuity phones home, breaking 63-day silence (Image Credit: Space.com)
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter’s two-month silent stretch is over.
Ingenuity got in touch with its handlers on June 28 via its robotic parter, the Perseverance rover, NASA officials announced today (June 30). It was the first such communication since April 26, when the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper went dark toward the end of its 52nd flight on the floor of Mars‘ Jezero Crater.
“The portion of Jezero Crater the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrain, which makes communications dropouts more likely,” Ingenuity team lead Josh Anderson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement today.
“The team’s goal is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance, which occasionally involves temporarily pushing beyond communication limits,” Anderson added. “We’re excited to be back in communications range with Ingenuity and receive confirmation of Flight 52.”
Ingenuity covered 1,191 feet (363 meters) of ground on the 139-second-long Flight 52. The main goals of the sortie were to reposition the chopper and snap photos for Perseverance’s science team, NASA officials said.
The newly received flight data suggest that Ingenuity remains in good health. If further checkouts confirm that, the chopper could fly again within the next few weeks, team members said.
Ingenuity and the life-hunting, sample-collecting Perseverance landed inside Jezero in February 2021. The chopper quickly aced its primary mission, a five-flight campaign designed to show that aerial exploration is feasible on Mars. Ingenuity then embarked on an extended mission, during which it’s serving as a scout for Perseverance.
All communications to and from Ingenuity must be routed through Perseverance. That explains the recent silent spell, which the two mission teams had expected: The rover had disappeared behind a hill from the helicopter’s perspective, and it didn’t come back into view until June 28.
Ingenuity’s handlers have battled through other communications issues lately as well. In early April, for example, the chopper went dark for six days, a surprise dropout that had the mission team sweating a bit.