NASA lost contact with Mars helicopter Ingenuity, then managed to find it again

ESA makes its own discovery: the most water ever found on Mars

NASA regained contact with its Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, on Saturday two days after it lost communication as the vehicle descended from its most recent flight.

The loss of contact with its counterpart rover Perseverance occurred last Thursday during Flight 72, which the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) described as "a quick pop-up vertical flight to check out the helicopter's systems."

Flight 72 was intended to check everything was hunky-dory after Flight 71 was unexpectedly cut short when featureless portions of the planetary surface saw Ingenuity's downward-facing camera struggle to pick out features to aid navigation.

During Flight 72, the vehicle flew upward to an altitude of 12 meters (39.4 feet) and back. The entire process lasted just over 32 seconds, before the communication cutoff.


Flight 72 – Click to enlarge

JPL announced on Saturday that Perseverance – which is tasked with relaying data between Earth and the helicopter – had reestablished contact with Ingenuity after "performing long-duration listening sessions" looking for the helicopter's signal.

"The team is reviewing the new data to better understand the unexpected comms dropout during Flight 72," added JPL.

Perseverance and Ingenuity arrived on Mars in February 2021. The rotorcraft's achievements are momentous, as it is the first autonomous motorized vehicle – and the first helicopter – to fly on a planet other than Earth.

In December, NASA celebrated the couple's 1000th day of operations – in Martian days that is. A day on the red planet is around 37 minutes longer than a day on Earth.

Those days have been spent at Jezero Crater. According to NASA, the goal of the mission is to "seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and dust) for possible return to Earth."

Perseverance's path can be viewed on a map created with images from both the HiRISA camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express High Resolution Stereo camera.

In other Mars news, the European Space Agency last week revealed its Mars Express orbiter spotted large ice water deposits below the Martian surface at the equator.

The space agency referred to the ice as "the most water ever found in this part of the planet."

In 2007, the mission studied the Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF) – a crumbling feature on the Martian surface thought responsible for the planet's iron-rich rust colored dust. At the time, scientists believed they found massive unidentified water deposits up to 2.5km deep.

Radar analysis has since identified the deposits as ice, with scientists estimating they are thicker than first thought at 3.7km depth.

It's so much water that the ESA said the ice deposits could fill the Earth's Red Sea.

The radar also revealed that the MFF is likely made of alternating layers of ice and dust, topped with a protective layer of dry dust or ash. That protective layer is likely several hundred meters deep.

In addition to providing clues on the red planet's past climate, the water deposits would be very useful for any future missions to Mars.

"Unfortunately, these MFF deposits are covered by hundreds of meters of dust, making them inaccessible for at least the next few decades. However, every bit of ice we find helps us build a better picture of where Mars's water has flowed before, and where it can be found today," explained Mars Express project scientist Colin Wilson. ®

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