Ingenuity, self-employed by NASA The Mars helicopter only had to complete five flights. But since its first historic flight in April 2021, the helicopter has flown 28 times and is preparing for the 29th. Depending on the dust levels and the schedule of the Perseverance rover, this flight could take place as early as the end of this week. But now Ingenuity faces a new challenge: it is unclear whether the helicopter will survive the next Martian winter, which begins in July.
Since one Martian year is equivalent to about two years on Earth and the helicopter is in the northern hemisphere, this is the first winter of Ingenuity. As the solstice approaches, the days get shorter and the nights get longer, and dust storms could be more frequent. All of this means less sunlight for solar panels mounted above the two 4-foot rotor blades of the helicopter. Dust from solar panels recently marked the end of NASA’s InSight Mars landing operations, and the effects of cold on electronics are believed to have played a major role in the end of the Opportunity and Spirit rover missions. March.
“We believe it can survive,” Dave Lavery, executive of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter program, told WIRED, but “every extra day is a gift.” JPL Ingenuity team leader Teddy Tzanetos recently wrote in a post on the NASA blog that “every single (Martian day) could be the last of Ingenuity.”
Last month, Ingenuity briefly lost contact with Earth due to a decrease in battery life, most of which is spent on heating. NASA re-established contact with Ingenuity after two days, but due to battery levels dropping below 70 percent and lower persistent temperatures, Ingenuity will suspend the use of on-board heaters at night to preserve energy during the four winter months. The heaters usually come into operation when the temperature drops below -5 Fahrenheit, a figure reduced to -40 after the battery power failure and the interruption of communications last month. Outside temperatures during the Martian winter can drop to -112 at night, increasing the likelihood of damage to electronics inside the helicopter.
On Monday, NASA announced the failure of a sensor, delaying flight 29 and demanding that NASA bind a piece of software and rely on another sensor to govern Ingenenuity’s navigation algorithms.
Dust storms are an X-factor. A study published in May by a team at the University of Houston examined data from NASA sensors for four Martian years and found that imbalances in solar energy and warm weather in the south they increase the likelihood of massive dust storms that could cover the entire planet. Spring and summer are known as storm seasons, but the likelihood of severe storms decreases as the north approaches the winter solstice, says University of Houston associate professor Liming Li. But there is a caveat: the study is global and does not take into account any particular region. Conditions may also be different in the craters than on the rest of the surface, and the helicopter is operating in the Jezero crater.
“It’s hard to say,” Li said when asked if there are more dust storms on the way. “It’s hard to give a clear picture of the radiation budget at Jezero Crater before it is actually measured.”
As Ingenuity stops normal flight activity, the team will focus on transferring data such as flight performance logs and high definition images from the last eight flights and making software updates. Based on a climate model, NASA expects solar energy levels to recover to a level that will allow normal activity to resume this fall. In September or October, if Ingenuity is able to regain the ability to heat its systems at night, it could resume regular flight operations, exploring potential locations for the Perseverance rover to store a collection of rock samples. and soil and explore what scientists believe he used to do. being a river delta within the Jezero crater.