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NASA’s Ingenuity in Contact With Perseverance Rover After Communications Dropout

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On Thursday, Could 5, mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory acquired affirmation that the company’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter had re-established communications with the Perseverance rover. Earlier within the week, the rotorcraft had missed a deliberate communications session with the rover – for the primary time in over a yr of operations on the Mars floor. Ingenuity depends on Perseverance as the bottom station that allows it to ship knowledge to and obtain instructions from Earth. Whereas extra knowledge downlinks and evaluation are wanted, the Ingenuity and Perseverance groups consider they’ve decided a explanation for the anomaly in addition to a plan to return to regular operations.

Ingenuity grew to become the first powered plane to function on one other world on April 19, 2021. Designed to carry out as much as 5 experimental take a look at flights over a span of 30 Martian days (sols), or near 31 Earth days, the rotorcraft has flown over 4.2 miles (6.9 kilometers) throughout 28 sorties and operated from the floor of the Pink Planet for over a yr.

Knowledge downlinked signifies that the communications dropout on Could 3, Sol 427 of the Perseverance rover’s mission at Mars, was a results of the solar-powered helicopter getting into a low-power state, probably because of the seasonal enhance within the quantity of mud within the Martian environment and decrease temperatures as winter approaches. The mud diminishes the quantity of daylight hitting the photo voltaic array, decreasing Ingenuity’s means to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries. When the battery pack’s state of cost dropped beneath a decrease restrict, the helicopter’s field-programmable gate array (FPGA) was powered down.

The FPGA manages Ingenuity’s operational state, switching the opposite avionics components on and off as wanted to maximise energy conservation. It additionally operates the warmers that allow the helicopter to outlive frigid Martian nights, maintains exact spacecraft time, and controls when the helicopter is scheduled to get up for communications periods with Perseverance.

When the FPGA misplaced energy in the course of the Martian evening, the helicopter’s onboard clock – which designates the time that communications with Perseverance happen – reset. And Ingenuity’s heaters, so important to protecting electronics and different elements inside operational temperatures – turned off. When the Solar rose the subsequent morning and the photo voltaic array started to cost the batteries, the helicopter’s clock was now not in sync with the clock aboard the rover. Basically, when Ingenuity thought it was time to contact Perseverance, the rover’s base station wasn’t listening.

To verify Perseverance would hear a name, Perseverance mission controllers at JPL commanded the rover to spend virtually all of Sol 429 (Could 5) listening for the helicopter’s sign. It got here at 11:45 a.m. native Mars time. The information transmitted was restricted to intentionally protect battery cost, however the helicopter’s crucial well being and security knowledge have been nominal. The radio hyperlink between Ingenuity and Perseverance was steady, spacecraft temperatures have been inside expectation, the photo voltaic array was recharging the battery at a charge anticipated for this season, and the battery was wholesome, containing 41% of a full cost.

However one radio communications session doesn’t imply Ingenuity is out of the woods. The elevated (light-reducing) mud within the air means charging the helicopter’s batteries to a degree that can permit necessary elements (just like the clock and heaters) to stay energized all through the evening presents a major problem.

Every evening for the previous three sols, Ingenuity’s heaters have kicked in when its battery temperature was beneath 5 levels Fahrenheit (minus 15 levels Celsius). Whereas on, the warmers stored the temperature of important helicopter elements from dropping farther – right down to the ambient environmental temperature of minus 112 levels Fahrenheit (minus 80 levels Celsius). However the staff believes that the battery couldn’t maintain the vitality draw of the onboard heaters all through the evening.

“We have now all the time recognized that Martian winter and mud storm season would current new challenges for Ingenuity, particularly colder sols, a rise in atmospheric mud, and extra frequent mud storms,” mentioned Ingenuity Staff Lead Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Each flight and each mile of distance flown past our authentic 30-sol mission has pushed the spacecraft to its limits every sol on Mars.”

The Ingenuity and Perseverance groups have designed a plan they hope will make a distinction. Their purpose is to assist the helicopter’s battery accumulate sufficient of a cost in the course of the subsequent few sols in order that it may assist all mandatory spacecraft methods in the course of the chilly Martian evening. Uplinked yesterday, the brand new instructions decrease the purpose at which the helicopter energizes its heaters from when the battery falls beneath 5 levels Fahrenheit (minus 15 levels Celsius) to minus 40 levels Fahrenheit (minus 40 levels Celsius).  The helicopter then shuts down rapidly, slightly than consuming the battery cost with the warmers. The staff hopes this technique will permit the battery to retain no matter cost it collected in the course of the day. The Ingenuity engineers hope that after a number of days of the helicopter’s array soaking within the restricted rays, the battery can have reached a degree the place the spacecraft can return to regular operations.

Permitting the warmers to stay off in a single day will preserve important battery vitality however can even expose elements to the chilly of Martian evening. Developed as a know-how demonstration to show that powered, managed flight on Mars is feasible, the 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft carries many industrial off-the-shelf elements that weren’t designed for the chilly of deep area operations.

“Our prime precedence is to take care of communications with Ingenuity within the subsequent few sols, however even then, we all know that there will probably be important challenges forward,” mentioned Tzanetos. “I couldn’t be prouder of our staff’s efficiency over the past yr, not to mention our plane’s unimaginable achievements on Mars. We’re hopeful that we will accumulate battery cost in an effort to return to nominal operations and proceed our mission into the weeks forward.”

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