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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has officially completed its 52nd flight after losing communication with mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California for over two months.
The flight initially took place on April 26, but mission controllers lost contact when the helicopter descended toward the Martian surface for landing.
The team wasn’t surprised by the loss of contact, they had expected communications to drop out because of a hill that stood between the helicopter’s landing position and the position of the Perseverance rover, which acts as a radio relay between Ingenuity and mission controllers at JPL.
“The portion of Jezero Crater the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrain, which makes communications dropouts more likely,” JPL’s Josh Anderson, the Ingenuity team lead, said. “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.”
In anticipation of losing communications, the Ingenuity team had already developed re-contact plans for when the rover would be back within range. Contact was re-established on June 28 when Perseverance crested the hill between it and Ingenuity and could see the helicopter again.
So far, NASA’s data indicates that all is well with Ingenuity. Assuming the remaining health checks also turn out well, Ingenuity could be back in the sky within the next few weeks.
On its next flight, Ingenuity’s target is an interim airfield to the west of its current location. Once there, the helicopter will perform another westward flight to a new base of operations near a rocky outcrop that the Perseverance team is interested in exploring.
Ingenuity touched down on Mars in April 2021. The helicopter was the first ever helicopter to be sent to another planet. It was sent as a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars. While the helicopter has been flying strong for over two years now, NASA’s team doesn’t expect it to last forever.
NASA has been so encouraged by Ingenuity’s success that it decided to swap out its Sample Fetch Rovers for two drones, similar to the helicopter, to serve as backups to the Perseverance Rover in the Mars Sample Return Campaign.