NASA grounds Ingenuity Mars Helicopter temporarily


Currently, it is winter and dust season on Mars. This means that there is more dust in the air and less sunlight that can recharge the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Due to this, NASA teams have decided to give the helicopter a break for a few weeks so that its batteries can build their daily state of charge back up. Dust levels are expected to subside later in July and weather permitting, Ingenuity could be back in the air around the start of August.

Ingenuity is a small solar-powered helicopter that landed on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021. Having landed along with the Perseverance Rover, it completed the world’s first powered extraterrestrial flight on April 19. On that day, it took off, hovered and landed for a flight duration of 39.1 seconds, creating history on the red planet.

In May this year, NASA published dramatic footage of the helicopter completing its record-breaking 25th flight, during which it covered a distance of 704 metres at a speed of 5.5 metres per second. This was the rotorcraft’s longest and fastest flight to date. The flight happened on April 8 but was only released by the space agency on May 27.

In May, before it released the video, NASA had also announced that it had momentarily lost contact with Ingenuity after the Mars helicopter entered a low-power state. It got back in contact a little later when it got adequate energy from its dollar array to charge its six lithium-ion batteries.

Further, in June, a preflight checkout of sensors and actuators had revealed that one of the helicopter’s sensors, called an inclinometer, had stopped working. The non-working sensor consists of two accelerometers and its sole purpose is to measure gravity prior to spin-up and take-off to determine how Ingenuity is oriented relative to its direction.

The inclinometer is not used during the flight itself but scientists were forced to find a new way to initialise the navigation algorithms prior to takeoff without it. But since Ingenuity has redundancies built into it, mission engineers were able to use data from other accelerometers to help it resume flying.

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