NASA suspends Mars mission after loss of contact with helicopter

The “Ingenuity” helicopter completed 28 flights on the surface of Mars, covering a distance of about 7 kilometers. Dust collects on its solar panels, making it difficult to charge the battery. NASA recently lost contact with the helicopter, believing the battery was dead, but after sunrise, when the battery is fully charged, it will power up and try to contact the Perseverance rover. So the engineering team ordered Perseverance to stop all ongoing scientific activity for the entire day, essentially staying put and listening to Wit’s call. The significance of this approach is that the helicopter was initially seen as an additional technology demonstration. Some of the rover leadership team didn’t even want to carry Wit, lest they increase the risk. The helicopter was supposed to make five test flights in 30 days before being abandoned. Now, nearly 13 months after Intent’s maiden flight, the entire Mars mission has been halted in hopes of saving the small craft. Happily, Wit did ‘phone home’ after about 24 hours. NASA said the connection was stable, and the solar panels managed to charge the battery to 41 percent. Engineers said they hoped Witness would be able to resume flying activities in the next few days after the battery was fully charged. However, this could be the beginning of the end. They have lowered the keep-alive heater set temperature from -15°C to -40°C to save energy, and as Mars enters winter, it’s unclear how long commercial off-the-shelf components in the system will last at low temperatures.

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