TechMars mission setback. Perseverance loses connection to Ingenuity mid-flight

Mars mission setback. Perseverance loses connection to Ingenuity mid‑flight

NASA lost the Ingenuity helicopter. It disappeared from the Perseverance rover's radar.
NASA lost the Ingenuity helicopter. It disappeared from the Perseverance rover's radar.
Images source: © NASA
11:11 PM EST, January 20, 2024

NASA communicated a pressing situation unfolding on Mars. During Ingenuity's 72nd flight, the Mars helicopter faced unexpected issues. The flight, meant to explain the causes of previously noted abnormalities, ended in worsening conditions.

Ingenuity Vanishes from Mars Radar

Ingenuity, the space pioneer on Mars, does not operate entirely independently over the Martian terrain. All of its flights are supervised by the Perseverance rover, which has the sole connection to Earth from Mars. The 72nd flight was no exception.

What was expected to be a swift vertical flight with a hop, took a different turn. Based on data received from Perseverance, the helicopter ascended successfully to a height of 39 feet and began its planned descent. However, an anomaly occurred as connection between the rover and the helicopter was abruptly lost.

The ground crew can't ascertain Ingenuity's location or verify if it landed safely on Martian soil. Even though Perseverance has lost contact with Ingenuity before, this incident is characterized by a malfunction. In previous flights, Ingenuity could vanish from the rover's radar for numerous weeks, but always for a known reason. During these occasions, it served as a scout, providing topographical information to the rover.

Uncertain Future for the Martian Helicopter

In instances where it had to land in hilly terrains, the rover would momentarily lose communication with Ingenuity. Restoring contact required reducing the distance or adjusting the rover's position relative to the companion. Currently, the ground crew had not planned for the Martian robots to disconnect, and the communication problems immediately following the flight have raised concerns about the helicopter's condition.

The NASA team hasn't determined the next steps to recover the missing Martian device. This task will require a thorough analysis of the available data from flight 72 and an estimation of the potential malfunction causes. They may take some comfort from previous experience in locating intentionally abandoned Ingenuity. However, the feasibility of a successful rescue operation and sustaining the mission hinges on the technical condition of both the rover and the helicopter.

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