Mars helicopter Ingenuity approaches 14th flight

An illustration depicts NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity on the Red Planet. Image courtesy of NASA

Oct. 23 (UPI) — The Mars helicopter Ingenuity is ready for a short Martian flight as early as today to test summer weather conditions that have arrived at its location on the Red Planet after two weeks of no communication because of blockage by the sun.

The flight, Ingenuity’s 14th, is brief and simple by design. As weather at Jezero Crater gets warmer, the aircraft’s rotors must turn faster to achieve flight, so engineers have designed a quick hop to test the helicopter’s performance.

“Ingenuity successfully performed a … spin test this week & will do a short hop no earlier than [Saturday],” NASA posted on Twitter. “This is to test out flying in lower atmospheric densities.”

Ingenuity and the rover Perseverance emerged from an almost-complete blackout in communication Thursday after Earth and Mars moved so that the sun came between them. Only short pings of transmissions were attempted during the solar conjunction, to ensure the robotic explorers were functioning.

As of Friday, NASA engineers believed Ingenuity was healthy after the tiny, 4-pound aircraft spun its rotors for a brief preflight test.

NASA designed the aircraft to fly five times, and it already has flown 13 missions. After its initial success, NASA transitioned to using the helicopter as a scout for the Perseverance rover rather than a simple technology demonstration.

Ingenuity previously aborted an attempt at the 14th flight in September. Data indicated that was due to a problem with mechanisms that help control direction and position of the rotors. But two subsequent spin tests of the rotors did not repeat the problem, NASA engineers said.

The engineers said they are concerned that Ingenuity’s parts could be wearing out due to the stress of extreme temperatures and the extended nature of the helicopter’s mission.


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