The small Ingenuity helicopter made another flight on Mars. It was number 17, but while the previous flights had gone smoothly, something unexpected happened on this last one.
Communication between Ingenuity and the Perseverance rover was interrupted while the helicopter was descending. All telemetry data have subsequently indicated that the flight was completed successfully, and NASA has explained what could have caused the momentary loss of the link between the two vehicles.
NASA’s theory is that the link was lost “due to a difficult radio configuration during landing”, but before planning the next flight it is necessary to “transfer the lost data from flight 17 from the helicopter to the rover and then to Earth so that the health of the vehicle can be confirmed”.
The flight took place last December 5 but is not yet included in the flight log maintained by NASA, which records, for example, the distance, altitude or maximum speed reached.
There were two factors that could have caused the problem. First, the terrain: on descent, Ingenuity may have ended up behind a small, four-meter-high hill that the team has dubbed ‘Bras’.
The second, the orientation of the rover, which changed due to new targets for its scientific exploration. “By the time Flight 17 was ready for execution, Perseverance had gone to another new location and had parked in a complex orientation for radio communications.”
The latest data reveals that Ingenuity is in perfect condition. As stated in the NASA announcement, enough additional data has been received to “confirm that the helicopter landed successfully upon completion of its 17th flight on December 5.” In fact, they added, they are already planning for flight 18, which is expected to take place later this week.