The revolutionary operations that NASA's Mars helicopter is conducting on the planet's surface are currently on hold.
The mission of Ingenuity, the first aircraft to perform a powered flight on an extraterrestrial world, has been managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. On Thursday, July 14, JPL made the following announcement: Ingenuity will cease operations for the ensuing few weeks.
"The #MarsHelicopter is taking a break for the next few weeks. It's winter and dust season on Mars, which means less sunlight to recharge Ingenuity's batteries. But don't worry, the team expects the rotorcraft to fly again in August," JPL stated on Twitter.
Similar to Earth, Mars has an axis that is slightly tipped with respect to its orbital plane. As a result, the planet's northern and southern hemispheres experience differing quantities of sunlight throughout the course of a year, giving rise to various seasons. Martian winter will result in increased airborne dust over the next weeks, obstructing the sunlight Ingenuity requires to refuel.
By the beginning of August, ingenuity should be back in the Martian air, according to a NASA statement released Wednesday (July 13). "Dust levels are expected to subside later in July, so the team has decided to give the helicopter's batteries a break for a few weeks and build their daily state of charge back up," the statement reads.
Similar breaks are required throughout the Martian winter by other Mars rovers as well. The extreme circumstances during winter on Mars have also compromised the lives of previous NASA rovers like Opportunity.
China's Zhurong rover entered sleep on May 18 for the same reason as Ingenuity did. The solar-powered Opportunity was really wiped out in 2018 by a massive dust storm that blocked the sun, but NASA experts are sure that Ingenuity will survive, weather permitting.
Ingenuity, a NASA chopper, was launched in the summer of 2020 and touched down in Mars' Jezero Crater on February 18, 2021, while still tethered to the Perseverance rover. Weeks after Perseverance launched the helicopter, Ingenuity made its maiden flight on Apr. 19, 2021.
Ingenuity, a 4-pound (1.8-kg) helicopter, made its first flight in 39 seconds while hovering around 10 feet (three meters) above the soil's reddish hue at a location aptly called Wright Brothers Field, in commemoration of the first people to fly on Earth.
Ingenuity's mission has already gone far beyond its original goal of merely five flights, with 29 trips totaling 55 minutes of flight time.