NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) mission controllers received confirmation that the agency's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter had re-established communications with the Perseverance rover.
Earlier in the week, the rotorcraft failed to communicate with the rover for the first time in over a year of operations on Mars' surface. Perseverance serves as Ingenuity's base station, enabling the helicopter to send and receive data from Earth.
Engineers believe the helicopter went into low power mode due to a mixture of high levels of dust in the atmosphere and cold local temperatures. The solar-powered Ingenuity was unable to communicate with its base station, the Perseverance rover, which sends the helicopter's status to Earth via Martian satellite, as a result of the situation.
Ingenuity was recently authorized to fly until at least September, and it has now completed 28 missions. That exceeds its initial flight plan of five excursions planned after it and Perseverance landed on the Martian surface in February 2021.
Last September, Ingenuity's rotor revolutions per flight were increased to account for lower atmospheric density due to seasonal changes at the mission's landing site, Mars' Jezero Crater.
So far, the strategy has proven effective. The rotorcraft has flown 4.2 miles (6.9 kilometers) and is now acting as a scout for Perseverance activities as the mission enters an old delta in search of possible signs of Martian life. Recently, the mini-helicopter took photos of Perseverance's discarded landing system to aid spacecraft engineers in planning future missions.
Engineers directed Perseverance to pay any attention to the signal for nearly an entire Martian sol (day) on May 5 and started hearing from the helicopter around 11:45 a.m. Mars local time The helicopter's ingenuity was limited in what it could send to maintain power, but control systems were able to evaluate that the helicopter's basic health appeared to be good.
Dust, on the other hand, will remain a persistent threat to the solar-powered mission, making it more difficult to recharge the batteries to keep the vital heaters and clock running through the frigid overnight.
According to JPL officials, Ingenuity has turned on its heaters whenever battery temperatures dropped below 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Engineers are concerned that if this approach is continued, the battery will be unable to keep the heaters running all night.
Engineers have devised a new strategy. A fresh set of commands changed the temperature at which the battery turns on to minus 40 degrees F as of last week. According to JPL, the helicopter will also be programmed to shut down immediately rather than wasting "precious" battery charge.