the Ingenuity helicopter returns to service after a long nap

The great epic of Perseverance’s number one sidekick starts again.

It’s an announcement that went a little unnoticed because of the slump that currently surrounds the Artemis 1 mission, whose launch continues to be postponed due to technical, logistical and regulatory problems (see our article). But tuesday september 6, Ingenuity took off for a small flight of 56 seconds which allowed it to travel approximately 97 meters towards Perseverance. A return to business that will directly benefit the star of the Mars rovers.

On June 11, the small Ingenuity helicopter successfully concluded its 29th flight to Mars. But since then, this incredible little machine had more or less remained grounded. NASA not wishing to take the slightest risk with the approach of the merciless Martian winter, it offered him a well deserved nap Hoping to put it back to work as soon as the weather permits.

Ingenuity survived the Martian winter

Indeed, it is a period during which the Red Planet is particularly inhospitable for machines of this kind, even in areas that are not entirely frosted. The atmosphere is loaded with dust, which is obviously far from ideal for the rotors and solar panels of an aircraft like Ingenuity. The length of the day also drops, as well as the density of the atmosphere – two elements which further complicate the task of the drone (see our article).

The weather has since improved considerably; in late August, NASA estimated that conditions would soon become ideal for the helicopter again. They therefore carried out a somewhat special 30th flight. The objective was not to move, but to evacuate the dust which had accumulated at the level of the rotors and the solar panels. They also took the opportunity to carry out a overall machine check-up to make sure he was still on the attack.

And as usual, this little gem of technology immediately came to attention; this flight of barely two meters allowed NASA to confirm that Ingeniuty was still perfectly operational. Now he will be able catch up with his traveling companion and return to his service.

That’s what NASA started doing with its 31st flight last week. It will take a few more leaps to reach it, and we can already say that NASA is impatiently awaiting its arrival.

A shock team in search of Martian life

Indeed, Perseverance is currently surveying the main objective of its mission: the Jezero crater delta (see our article). NASA hopes to find traces of past Martian life there. But this area, which is of major scientific interest, is also very steep and full of various and varied geological traps.

All of them are likely to end Perseverance’s mission in the blink of an eye. This requires NASA to be extremely careful with the slightest wheel movement of the rover. And that’s where Ingenuity comes in. This difficult terrain does not scare this flying machine at all, and so it can serve as a deluxe scout to allow operators to select rover trajectories with care.

© NASA/JPL-CALTECH

The drone has already fulfilled this role in the past; he played an important role in the journey to this famous delta. The information he brought back allowed operators to find fast and safe routes to Perseverance. This aid was not strictly essential; remember that no one expected Ingenuity to still be involved at this stage of the mission. But this invaluable contribution did help the rover circumvent the vicious pitfalls of the Martian terrain. It is partly thanks to him that he was able to reach the zone of truth without any major technical problems.

An already historic machine

We can therefore expect his help to be just as welcome during this final phase. In addition to helping the rover orient itself, it will also be able to locate potential points of interest. He will also have the opportunity to photograph areas that Perseverance will be unable to access.

Either way, Ingenuity is still going strong and continues to exceed all expectations. Remember that originally, he was only supposed to make a maximum of five flights; but this little machine is doing so well that it continues to be put to use.

He was even so convincing that NASA decided to give him little brothers. They will participate in the recovery of samples from Perseverance as part of the Mars Sample Return program (see our article). Enough to further cement its already guaranteed place in the pantheon of space exploration… and it probably hasn’t finished impressing us.

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