Wednesday, April 17, 2024

JPL Team Says Goodbye to Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars

The mission of Ingenuity, the wildly successful experimental helicopter sent to Mars strapped to the belly of the Perseverance rover, has long been over. It ended in January, when an accident caused the tips of one or more of its rotor blades to be broken off. At the time, it wasn't known that an entire rotor blade was broken off.

The mission has long been over, but Ingenuity is still operating, communicating back to Earth through Perseverance, widely called Percy, as it has all along. Tuesday, April 16 was different. The JPL team convened one last time on Tuesday to oversee a transmission from the little helicopter, the first robotic craft to explore an atmosphere other than Earth's. This transmission, received through the antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network, marked the final time the mission team would be working together on Ingenuity operations.

The helicopter has a new mission: to serve as a stationary testbed, collecting data that could benefit future explorers of the Red Planet. 

“With apologies to Dylan Thomas, Ingenuity will not be going gently into that good Martian night,” said Josh Anderson, Ingenuity team lead at JPL. “It is almost unbelievable that after over 1,000 Martian days on the surface, 72 flights, and one rough landing, she still has something to give. And thanks to the dedication of this amazing team, not only did Ingenuity overachieve beyond our wildest dreams, but also it may teach us new lessons in the years to come.”

Originally designed as a short-lived technology demonstration mission that would perform up to five experimental test flights over 30 days, the first aircraft on another world operated from the Martian surface for almost three years, flew more than 14 times farther than the distance expected, and logged more than two hours of total flight time.

A final software update had been sent to Percy to relay over to Ingenuity. The transmission they were there to receive was to verify that the software update succeeded and the little helicopter would be able to start its next mission. The data will stay in Ingenuity because the rover is leaving the area where the chopper is sitting, Valinor Hills, as it moves on to explore the western limb of Jezero Crater. Ingenuity's radio system was never designed to communicate back to Earth. 

With the software patch in place, Ingenuity will now wake up daily, activate its flight computers, and test the performance of its solar panel, batteries, and electronic equipment. In addition, the helicopter will take a picture of the surface with its color camera and collect temperature data from sensors placed throughout the rotorcraft. Ingenuity’s engineers and Mars scientists believe such long-term data collection could not only benefit future designers of aircraft and other vehicles for the Red Planet, but also provide a long-term perspective on Martian weather patterns and dust movement.
“Whenever humanity revisits Valinor Hills — either with a rover, a new aircraft, or future astronauts — Ingenuity will be waiting with her last gift of data, a final testament to the reason we dare mighty things,” said Ingenuity’s project manager, Teddy Tzanetos of JPL. “Thank you, Ingenuity, for inspiring a small group of people to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds at the frontiers of space.”

How much data? If a critical component on Ingenuity were to fail in the future, or if the helicopter were to lose power because of dust accumulation on its solar panel, causing data collection to stop, whatever information Ingenuity has collected will remain stored on board. The team has calculated Ingenuity’s memory could potentially hold about 20 years’ worth of daily data. What say we have a couple of astronauts go get that data by about 2040? Less than 20 years.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, right, stands near the apex of a sand ripple in an image taken by Perseverance on Feb. 24, about five weeks after the rotorcraft’s final flight. Part of one of Ingenuity’s rotor blades lies on the surface about 50 feet west of the helicopter (in the third rounded area from the left in the image). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS

Some of that Martian dust must have come out of the picture. It's bothering my eyes.


  1. The Little Helicopter That DID !!
    What a Champion. Waytogo, JPL and NASA !

  2. When NASA does great stuff, NASA does great stuff. Hats off!