The Mars helicopter Ingenuity is an impressive success story, with 27 flights over the surface of the red planet. But the plane is currently experiencing problems related to dust, the Martian winter, and the power supply via solar panels. The Ingenuity mission is a huge success and one of the greatest achievements in spaceflight in recent years: it was the first time that a flying object on another planet could be operated on.
But as NASA has now announced, dust deposits that collect on the solar panels have been a problem for some time. These are needed to charge the six lithium-ion batteries. More than that, the Northern Hemisphere is approaching the peak of the Martian winter, which will be reached in about two months. All this together means: The power is running out at Ingenuity and also explains why the responsible Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA lost contact with the helicopter.
Based on the available data, the engineers on Earth have concluded that Ingenuity’s flight computer has shut down due to insufficient power. However, this is standard practice as shutting down multiple systems is intended to protect them from the low temperatures at night. The entire mission to Mars was then paused in order to save the small helicopter and that really worked. Ingenuity was reactivated after about 24 hours and NASA was able to establish a stable connection to Earth. It was possible to charge the batteries to 41 percent and they should be fully charged in the next few days, enabling further flights.
The beginning of the end
However, it seems that this is the beginning of the end of Ingenuity, as to extend its lifespan, the engineers have to take some drastic measures. The approaching end should be seen with mixed feelings, however, as Ingenuity itself has far exceeded expectations in terms of longevity.
She works as an editor at Research Snipers.