For the first time, the Ingenuity team on Earth lost contact with Ingenuity SOL 427 and 428, Or the days of Mars that correspond to May 3 and May 4. The small helicopter’s engineers spent a week investigating the cause of the communications outage.
The team discovered that the connection loss occurred because Ingenuity experienced insufficient battery charge as night fell. This reduced voltage reset the mission clock, causing the helicopter’s system to become out of sync with its companion, the Perseverance rover. While the creativity has returned to reliably transmit messages to Earth through the rover, the team anticipates that this problem may occur again.
This is because it is early winter on Mars. Winter on the Red Planet lasts until September or October. During the Martian winter, dust rises into the atmosphere and blocks the light necessary to charge Ingenuity’s solar panels.
So far, Ingenuity has clocked 4.2 miles (6.8 kilometers) across 28 different flights.
The helicopter has remained in good shape and has resumed operations, albeit slightly modified, and the team remains optimistic that Ingenuity will soon go on its 29th flight. But there is no doubt that creativity in lost time.
“We are now working outside of our original design boundaries. Historically, Mars has been a huge challenge for spacecraft (particularly solar-powered spacecraft). Every Martian day can be another innovation.”
Mars winter is coming
As winter sets in on Mars, Ingenuity will see more dust in the air and lower temperatures — both of which could wreak havoc on a helicopter’s ability to maintain its power, warmth and operation.
As a result, Ingenuity will not be able to keep its battery and electronic devices at a programmed temperature of minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 25 degrees Celsius) using heaters.
Instead, the airship will encounter nighttime temperatures of minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 80 degrees Celsius), which could pose a risk to any electronic components. So far, these are stable and have not been damaged during cold nights.
Each morning, as the helicopter heated up and recharged, a power outage from the night before would incorrectly set the mission clock.
Perseverance should be more creative now when communicating with creativity. Essentially, the rover should allow the aircraft to “sleep” and wake up at the wrong time due to a clock problem. Using the on-board Helicopter Base station, Perseverance is able to chat with Ingenuity each day and reprogram the helicopter’s mission clock for the day.
The Ingenuity team cannot predict how Ingenuity’s core unit electronics components will perform throughout the winter, but “cold-sucked electronics are believed to have caused the end of the Opportunity and Spirit Mars spacecraft missions,” Tzanetos wrote in the update.
Currently, Ingenuity is reaching sunset on Mars with a state of 68% for its battery. JPL engineers have estimated that the helicopter needs at least 70% to keep the heaters running, the clock and basic electronics running all night.
“Our deficit of 2% is expected to grow to 7% once we reach the winter solstice (Sol 500 in July), at which point conditions will begin to improve,” Tzanitos wrote.
Prepare for the future
Retrieving data from Ingenuity, including flight performance logs and color images from the previous eight flights, has become a top priority. Next, the mission team will determine if the helicopter is ready for another flight and will ask the helicopter to make a high-speed rotation of its rotors.
If Ingenuity were able to make the short trip southwest, the small helicopter would be well positioned to communicate with the Perseverance Wagon as it studies and collects samples from an ancient river delta.
The flight software team is also working on upgrades to Ingenuity’s advanced navigation capabilities to help it fly over the river delta and continue to serve as a rover’s aerial explorer.
“The Perseverance and Ingenuity Operations teams have done an exceptional job in re-establishing trusted connections with Ingenuity,” Zanitos wrote.
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