NASA has successfully reestablished communication with its miniature helicopter on Mars, allaying concerns of a potential mission failure. The unexpected outage had sparked fears that the resilient drone, named Ingenuity, may have reached the end of its operational life.
Ingenuity, a compact drone standing at approximately 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) tall, arrived on Mars in 2021 as part of the Perseverance rover mission. It made history by becoming the first autonomous motorized craft to take flight on another planet.
Data collected by Ingenuity are transmitted to Earth via the Perseverance rover. However, during its 72nd lift-off on Mars, a test flight on Thursday, communication was abruptly lost, triggering concerns about the helicopter’s status.
In a positive update on X (formerly Twitter), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) announced late Saturday that contact had been reestablished by instructing Perseverance to engage in “long-duration listening sessions for Ingenuity’s signal.” The JPL team is currently analyzing the new data to understand the unexpected communication dropout during Flight 72.
During this flight, Ingenuity reached an altitude of 40 feet (12 meters) in a quick vertical ascent to assess its systems after experiencing an unplanned early landing in its previous flight. However, communication between the helicopter and the rover was lost before touchdown during the descent.
NASA’s JPL team had mentioned on Friday that Perseverance was temporarily “out of line-of-sight with Ingenuity,” but considerations were made to drive closer for a visual inspection.
Responding to inquiries about Ingenuity’s potential for future flights, JPL stated on Saturday that a thorough assessment of the new data is necessary before making any determinations.
This isn’t the first time NASA lost contact with Ingenuity; there was a two-month hiatus last year. Despite these challenges, the mini rotorcraft, weighing just four pounds (1.8 kilograms), has surpassed its original goal of five flights over 30 days on Mars. It has covered over 10 miles (17 kilometers) and reached altitudes of up to 79 feet (24 meters). Ingenuity’s longevity is particularly notable as it must endure the extremely cold Martian nights, relying on solar panels to recharge its batteries during daylight hours.
Working in tandem with the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity has served as an aerial scout, aiding in the search for potential signs of ancient microbial life on Mars.