NASA gets back in touch with the Mars mini-helicopter

After an unplanned outage that raised concerns that the devoted vehicle had finally reached the end of its useful life, NASA announced on Saturday that it had reestablished contact with its miniature helicopter on Mars.

In 2021, the rover Perseverance brought Ingenuity, a drone of roughly 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) in height, to Mars, where it made history as the first motorized vehicle to fly independently on a different planet.

On Thursday, the 72nd lift-off of Ingenuity on Mars, during a test flight, communications were unexpectedly severed. The data from the helicopter is transferred via Perseverance back to Earth.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) posted on X, formerly Twitter, late on Saturday, saying, “Good news today.”

The agency reported that Perseverance had been given the order to “perform long-duration listening sessions for Ingenuity’s signal,” indicating that communication with the chopper had finally been established.

“The team is reviewing the new data to better understand the unexpected comms dropout during Flight 72,” it stated.

Flight 72 was described by NASA as a “quick pop-up vertical flight to check out the helicopter’s systems, following an unplanned early landing during its previous flight,” during which Ingenuity reached a height of 40 feet (12 meters).

However, “communications between the helicopter and rover terminated early, prior to touchdown,” the agency reported, during the descent.

Perseverance was momentarily “out of line-of-sight with Ingenuity, but the team could consider driving closer for a visual inspection,” according to a note made by JPL on Friday.

When asked if Ingenuity will be able to take off again in a post on X, JPL responded on Saturday by saying that “the team needs to assess the new data before that can be determined.”

NASA has previously lost communication with the chopper, most recently for a torturous two months in the previous year.

Weighing in at a just four pounds (1.8 kilograms), the tiny rotorcraft has accomplished considerably more than its initial mission of five flights over thirty days on the red planet.

It has traveled a total of slightly more than 10 miles (17 kilometers) and as high as 79 feet (24 meters).

Its endurance has been astounding, especially because it needs to withstand the bitterly cold Martian nights while being warmed by the solar panels that replenish its energy reserves during the day.

It has accompanied Perseverance on her wheeled companion’s search for potential indicators of prehistoric microbial life by acting as an aerial scout.