The Ingenuity Mars helicopter is ready to fly again after a failure of interplanetary radio

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter is ready to fly again after a failure of interplanetary radio

“Now that conjunction is over, #MarsHelicopter can attempt flight 14,” mission personnel wrote in a tweet on Thursday (Oct. 21). “Ingenuity successfully performed a 50 rpm [rotations per minute] spin test this week & will do a short hop no earlier than Oct. 23.”

Story Highlights:

  • The Ingenuity helicopter, a technology demonstration drone that was supposed to fly at most five times within a month, has instead flown 13 successful sorties to date, accompanying the car-sized Perseverance rover on its explorations of their Jezero Crater landing site. NASA’s entire Mars fleet took a vacation in early October, as the sun blocked communications from Earth in what’s dubbed a solar conjunction. But now, the helicopter is ready to dust off its skills, with its mission team targeting a flight as early as Saturday (Oct. 23).

  • Related: It’s getting harder to fly the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars

The communications pause came just after two other challenges faced the Ingenuity team. First, as the seasons change on Mars, the atmosphere over Jezero Crater is thinning, making it more difficult for the helicopter to build lift. To address that challenge, engineers programmed Ingenuity to spin its blades even faster, targeting a flight at 2,700 rpm.

Engineers on the Ingenuity team used the rest of the month to analyze the situation and conduct a few extra servo wiggles, but they weren’t ready to attempt another flight before solar conjunction.

But that flight didn’t happen. On Sept. 18, when Ingenuity was scheduled to take off, its automatic system detected anomalies in two of its six flight-control servo motors. Because these parts control the tilt of the helicopter’s blades for steering, Ingenuity conducts a “servo wiggle” before each flight to ensure all six are working properly. But on that flight day, they weren’t, so Ingenuity skipped the flight attempt.

During the solar conjunction, Ingenuity also marked six months from its deployment in early April. Over the course of its 13 flights to date, it has covered about 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) according to NASA’s flight log, and the images it has captured during those flights have guided Perseverance in its own exploration of the region.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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