NASA's JPL team controlling the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter
today that they successfully received an update from the rover on June 28; 63
days from the last contact. I'd imagine it was somewhat nerve-wracking
that the last contact was before the 52nd flight of the little helicopter, so
no one on Earth knew if the flight was successful. It's pretty clear
that loss of contact was expected and the controllers knew they would be out
of contact with Ingenuity for a while.
The 52nd flight of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is now in the official mission logbook as a success. The flight took place back on April 26, but mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California lost contact with the helicopter as it descended toward the surface for landing.
The Ingenuity team expected the communications dropout because a hill stood between the helicopter’s landing location and the Perseverance rover’s position, blocking communication between the two. The rover acts as a radio relay between the helicopter and mission controllers at JPL. In anticipation of this loss of communications, the Ingenuity team had already developed re-contact plans for when the rover would drive back within range. Contact was re-established June 28 when Perseverance crested the hill and could see Ingenuity again.
The goal of that 52nd flight was to reposition Ingenuity in a place that Perseverance was driving toward with the expectation that once the rover
established radio contact with the helicopter, communications would become
more routine. It was a trip to a spot about 1200 feet away,
taking 139 seconds to fly that far.
Back when I last talked about Ingenuity being out of contact for six days, I was under the impression that the little helicopter was expected to not be out of contact much longer and absolutely not to be out of contact 10 times longer than that six days. I'll take the blame for not understanding that was going to be the norm for the expedition.
“The portion of Jezero Crater the rover and helicopter are currently exploring has a lot of rugged terrain, which makes communications dropouts more likely,” said JPL’s Josh Anderson, the Ingenuity team lead. “The team’s goal is to keep Ingenuity ahead of Perseverance, which occasionally involves temporarily pushing beyond communication limits. We’re excited to be back in communications range with Ingenuity and receive confirmation of Flight 52.”
They're so excited to be back in communication with Ingenuity that the first thing they mention is that Flight 53 might be within
days. The target is what appears to be a good place to land to the west
of the current location. The team plans to perform another westward
flight from that interim location to a different base of operations near a rocky
outcrop the Perseverance team is interested in exploring.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was captured by the Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z on April 16, not long after the rotorcraft’s 50th flight. The helicopter would soon fall silent for 63 days due to hilly terrain that interrupted communications between the rover and aircraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS