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NASA’s Mars Ingenuity has been temporarily grounded

NASA’s plucky Ingenuity helicopter is taking a break from flying through the Martian skies.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is overseeing the current Mars mission, said it had decided to ground Ingenuity to give the helicopter’s solar-powered batteries a break during dust storms that are currently whipping up around it.

The seasonal dust storms greatly reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the helicopter’s solar arrays, making efficient battery charging pretty much impossible.

“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,” JPL said in a post on its website. “Weather permitting, Ingenuity is expected to be back in the air around the start of August.”

The award-winning Ingenuity helicopter made history in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet. Since then the drone-like contraption has gone on to make a further 28 flights, with the most recent one taking place on June 11 this year.

With a height of 19.3 inches (49 cm) tall and tipping the scales at 4 pounds (2 kg), Ingenuity’s longest-single flight took it 2,326 feet (709 meters) across the Martian surface, while the fastest it has flown is 12.3 mph (5.5 meters per second). The helicopter’s longest continuous flight time to date is 169.5 seconds.

JPL originally described Ingenuity as a demonstration mission. But the flying machine quickly surpassed expectations, prompting the team to send it on increasingly challenging flights while also deploying it to assist the ground-based Perseverance rover by helping it to find the most efficient routes across the red planet’s surface. It did this by capturing images of the terrain from an altitude of around 33 feet (10 meters) and passing the data to the rover team, which then used it to plan the safest and quickest routes between locations of interest.

Indeed, the helicopter has performed so well that NASA looks set to build more advanced flying machines for future missions to Mars and possibly other planets.

Hardly surprising for such an ambitious mission, the team at JPL has faced a number of technical challenges with Ingenuity, though fortunately it’s always been able to overcome them — even from 115 million miles away.

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