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NASA Re-establishes Contact with Mini-Helicopter Ingenuity on Mars

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NASA has successfully regained contact with its small helicopter, Ingenuity, on Mars, alleviating concerns that the resilient craft might have reached the end of its operational life. The US space agency announced on Saturday after experiencing an unexpected communications outage during Ingenuity’s 72nd test flight on the Red Planet.

Ingenuity, a drone standing at a mere 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) tall, arrived on Mars in 2021 as part of the Perseverance rover mission. It achieved a historic milestone by becoming the first autonomous motorized craft to take flight on another celestial body, showcasing the advancements in space exploration.

Communication between Ingenuity and Earth relies on data transmitted via the Perseverance rover. However, during Thursday’s test flight, the unexpected loss of communications sparked concerns about the helicopter’s well-being.

In a reassuring update, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) reported on X, formerly Twitter, that contact had been re-established with Ingenuity. The agency explained that the Perseverance rover was instructed to conduct “long-duration listening sessions for Ingenuity’s signal” to reconnect with the mini-helicopter.

Despite the positive development, NASA is now examining the new data to understand the cause of the unexpected communication dropout during Flight 72. The agency had previously disclosed that the helicopter reached an altitude of 40 feet (12 meters) during this flight, conducting a quick vertical ascent to assess its systems.

However, the communications glitch occurred during the descent phase, leading to the termination of communication between Ingenuity and the rover before touchdown. The JPL team mentioned the possibility of driving Perseverance closer for a visual inspection if needed.

Responding to queries about Ingenuity’s future flights, JPL stated on Saturday that a thorough assessment of the new data was required before determining the helicopter’s operational status.

Ingenuity has faced communication challenges in the past, including a two-month hiatus last year. Despite its miniature size, weighing only four pounds (1.8 kilograms), the helicopter has significantly surpassed its original mission goal of five flights over 30 days on Mars.

Remarkably, Ingenuity has covered a distance of just over 10 miles (17 kilometers) and reached altitudes of up to 79 feet (24 meters). Its endurance is particularly noteworthy as it must endure the frigid Martian nights, relying on solar panels to recharge its batteries during daylight hours.

Working in tandem with the Perseverance rover, Ingenuity has served as an aerial scout, aiding in the search for potential signs of ancient microbial life on Mars. The latest developments highlight the resilience and technological advancements achieved by NASA in the realm of space exploration, demonstrating the agency’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery.

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