Late last week, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter managed to re-establish its connection with the Perseverance rover following a brief communications disruption. The space agency says the looming winter is likely responsible and is making adjustments as a result.
On Thursday, Ingenuity—mercifully—sent a signal to Perseverance after the intrepid helicopter missed a scheduled communications session. It marked the first time since the pair banded together on Mars in February 2021 that Ingenuity has missed an appointment, according to NASA.
The team behind the mission believes that Ingenuity had entered into a low-power state to conserve energy, and it did so in response to the charge of its six lithium-ion batteries dropping below a critical threshold. This was likely due to the approaching winter when more dust appears in the Martian atmosphere and the temperatures get colder. The dust blocks the amount of sunlight that reaches the helicopter’s solar array, which charges its batteries.
The Perseverance rover is on a mission to find evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars, while the rover’s much smaller companion, Ingenuity, became the first powered aircraft to lift off from the surface of another planet on April 19, 2021. The two robots share a communication line, with Perseverance relaying Ingenuity’s messages to Earth. Ingenuity uses small antennas to communicate with Perseverance, exchanging data that is then routed to the rover’s main computer and transferred to Earth through NASA’s Deep Space Network (a global array of radio antennas).
Ingenuity has an alarm that wakes the helicopter for its scheduled communication sessions with Perseverance. But on May 3, Ingenuity was a no-show for the scheduled daily data exchange after its fie.