NASA's Mars helicopter 'phones home' after a silence of over 2 months
The mission officials expected the communications dropout because a hill stood between the helicopter’s landing location and the Perseverance rover’s position, blocking communication between the two
After being silent for 63 days, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has made contact with mission controllers at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, the US space agency said.
While "63 days is a long time to wait for the results of a flight, the data coming in indicates all is well with the first aircraft on another world", the mission officials said in a statement.
Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet in February 2021 attached to the belly of NASA's Mars Perseverance rover and it also marked the two-year anniversary of its first flight, which took place on April 19, 2021.
Originally tasked with only five test flights to prove its "pioneering" technology, Ingenuity helicopter exceeded all expectations and has completed a record 52 flights on Mars.
However on its 52nd flight on April 26, mission controllers lost contact with the helicopter as it descended toward the surface for landing.
The mission officials expected the communications dropout because a hill stood between the helicopter’s landing location and the Perseverance rover’s position, blocking communication between the two. The rover acts as a radio relay between the helicopter and mission controllers at JPL.
In anticipation of this loss of communications, the team had already developed re-contact plans for when the rover would drive back within range. Contact was re-established June 28 when Perseverance crested the hill and could see Ingenuity again.
The goal of Flight 52, a 363-metre and 139-second-long flight, was to reposition the helicopter and take images of the Martian surface for the rover's science team.
"The portion of Jezero Crater the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrain, which makes communications dropouts more likely," said JPL's Josh Anderson, the Ingenuity team lead, in a statement.
"The team's goal is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance, which occasionally involves temporarily pushing beyond communication limits. We’re excited to be back in communications range with Ingenuity and receive confirmation of Flight 52," he added.
The new flight data suggest that Ingenuity remains in good health. If further checkouts confirm that, the helicopter may fly again within the next couple of weeks, the team said.
The target for Flight 53 is an interim airfield to the west, from which the team plans to perform another westward flight to a new base of operations near a rocky outcrop the Perseverance team is interested in exploring.