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Mars helicopter taking a break due to communications issue with Perseverance

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity will be taking a break for a few days while NASA engineers work out the details of a communications issue between the helicopter and its rover partner Perseverance.

After Ingenuity’s 17th flight on Sunday, December 5, there was a disruption in the radio link between the helicopter and the rover. The issue occurred during Ingenuity’s landing phase, which meant the team did not know if the helicopter landed safely and they were not able to get photos from the flight.

However, fifteen minutes later the rover did receive confirmation that the helicopter was healthy. NASA engineers analyzed the telemetry data available and found that the problem was with the radio link between the two due to issues with line of sight between them. The flight had been planned with the assumption Perseverance would be in a particular location and orientation, but the plans for the rover changed so it was located somewhere else. It was this difference in distance between the two which caused the interruption in radio communications.

In an interview, a member of the Ingenuity team confirmed that there had been an issue, but it shouldn’t be insurmountable. “Eventually, one way or another, we will get much better communications, so it’s just a question of when are we going to try again,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity program lead, said in an interview with UPI. “Basically we have discovered the limits of Ingenuity’s off-the-shelf 900-megahertz radio link.”

In an update on the official Ingenuity blog posted this week, Tzanetos said that additional information from Ingenuity had been received by Perseverance. “The limited data that was received indicates power aboard the rotorcraft is excellent, which suggests it is in an upright stance, allowing its solar array to efficiently power its six lithium-ion batteries,” he wrote. “However, the same line-of-sight issues the team believes impeded communications at the end of Flight 17 still prevented the majority of data packets (including imagery from the flight) to be relayed back to the rover – and then to Earth.”

The team is now waiting for an opportunity to transfer this data from the previous flight, which it thinks will happen in the next few days.

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