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It is currently winter and dust season on Mars. That means there’s more dust in the air and less sunlight to recharge the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. Because of this, the NASA teams decided to give the helicopter a break for a few weeks to allow its batteries to recover their daily state of charge. Dust levels are expected to subside later in July, and weather permitting, Ingenuity could be back in the air around early August.
Ingenuity is a small solar-powered helicopter that landed on the surface of Mars on February 18, 2021. After landing together with the Perseverance Rover, it completed the world’s first powered extraterrestrial flight on April 19. That day, it took off and hovered and landed for a flight time of 39.1 seconds, making history on the red planet.
In May this year, NASA released dramatic footage of the helicopter completing its record-breaking 25th flight, traveling a distance of 704 meters at a speed of 5.5 meters per second. It was the longest and fastest rotorcraft flight to date. The flight took place on April 8, but was not made public by the space agency until May 27.
In May, before the video was released, NASA also announced that it had briefly lost contact with Ingenuity after the Mars lander went into a low-power state. He made contact again a little later when he got enough power from his dollar field to charge his six lithium-ion batteries.
Also in June, a pre-flight inspection of sensors and controls revealed that one of the helicopter’s sensors, called an inclinometer, had stopped working. The malfunctioning sensor consists of two accelerometers and its sole purpose is to measure gravity prior to spin and takeoff to determine how Ingenuity is oriented relative to its heading.
The inclinometer is not used during the flight itself, but the scientists were forced to find a new way to initialize the navigation algorithms before takeoff without it. But because Ingenuity has built-in redundancies, mission engineers could use data from other accelerometers to help it resume flying.