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Ingenuity in trouble

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.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Doubting Thomas

    Farewell Ingenuity.

    You proved that rotary powered flight is possible on Mars and gave us a great glimpse of how it could be used alone and in conjunction with ground explorations. You showed us that taking a risk could produce very useful outcomes.

    Someday our children will salute your brave airframe from the surface of Mars.

  • Lee S

    A sad bit of news…. Here’s hoping the mission team manage to revive the plucky little thing.
    If not, said team can take solace that they knocked it miles out of the park, overachieving anything anyone could have expected from the mission. Great work guys… You have genuinely changed the face of planetary exploration for ever.
    Perseverance will be lonely without you… But will surely persevere.

  • Col Beausabre

    How much more proof do you need that solar powered anything on Mars needs some way of cleaning its solar arrays ? This seems to happen over and over again, with the “fix” being “We hope there will be some wind to blow the dust off” Excuse me, launching billion dollar missions and not providing a method to do so is “penny wise and pound foolish”. We’ve known forever that there are dust storms on Mars and yet no one has gotten off the dime. I know weight is important, but how heavy would a fan ducted to blow on the solar panels be?

  • Nathan

    Dust on Mars? If only a helicopter had any way of moving air and possibly removing dust.

    Additionally, the Opportunity mars rover had its solar panel wipers deleted during design for mass, and it lasted 57x the designed lifespan.

    Dust accumulation is not a guaranteed short-term failure on Mars. NASA’s supply of radioisotopes is low and the NIMBY/BANANA groups getting scream-y about launching a rocket with radioactive material — despite what appears to be a 100% worldwide success rate of launching radioisotopes out of our gravity well — solar panels are only a minor backup for probes launched past Mars/Jupiter — New Horizons, for one.

  • ” . . . despite what appears to be a 100% worldwide success rate of launching radioisotopes out of our gravity well . . .”

  • Col Beausabre

    Well, technically it did move successfully out of our gravity well, the problem was when it tried to get back in

  • Steven Carleton

    Yeah, nuclear power packs are going to continue. Solar is good but insufficient. Pretty sure the PRC is going to be deploying reactors in orbit and onto the moon.

  • Steven Carleton

    Can’t wait to see more drones on Mars! When is the next mission?

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