The engineering team yesterday revealed that several days earlier the Mars helicopter failed to communicate with the rover Perseverance as scheduled, now believed to have been caused by “a low-power state.”
Data downlinked indicates that the communications dropout on May 3, Sol 427 of the Perseverance rover’s mission at Mars, was a result of the solar-powered helicopter entering a low-power state, potentially due to the seasonal increase in the amount of dust in the Martian atmosphere and lower temperatures as winter approaches. The dust diminishes the amount of sunlight hitting the solar array, reducing Ingenuity’s ability to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries. When the battery pack’s state of charge dropped below a lower limit, the helicopter’s field-programmable gate array (FPGA) was powered down.
This state then caused the helicopter’s clock to get out of sync with the clock on Perseverance, so that when the rover tried to communicate the helicopter was not listening.
Engineers regained communications on May 5th, but the helicopter remains in trouble. Its batteries are no longer fully charged, which means it doesn’t have enough power to heat Ingenuity through the longer cold nights of winter that presently exist in Jezero crater.
The engineers have established a plan to get the batteries back up to full charge, but it means the heaters will no longer attempt to warm the helicopter as much. The result could be damaged parts not able to withstand those colder temperatures.
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