Mars helicopter sends final message, but will keep collecting data

One last software update installed safely, reconfigured it as 'stationary testbed'

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter concluded its mission on Tuesday, sending a final signal in its role as a companion to the Perseverance Rover.

The copter's last message named those who worked on the mission (a list was uploaded in advance) and also confirmed that a recent software patch installed successfully.

The patch means Ingenuity is now set up for ops as a "stationary testbed." In that role the craft will wake up daily, activate its flight computers, and test the performance of its solar panel, batteries, and electronic equipment. It will also take a picture of the Martian surface with its color camera.

That data will remain stored on Ingenuity, which relies on radio contact with Perseverance to contact Earth. Perseverance is still trundling across Mars and will one day pass beyond radio range and become unable to contact its flying companion.

It's hoped that the cache of data inside Ingenuity will provide insights into Martian weather patterns and dust movement.

But someone – or something – will have to visit Mars and find Ingenuity to get it.

"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," gushed Ingenuity's project manager, Teddy Tzanetos of JPL, before thanking the 'copter "for inspiring a small group of people to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds at the frontiers of space."

Tzanetos and his team inspired plenty of others, too. As The Register has often reported, Ingenuity's initial mission envisaged five flights – if it was found the craft could fly at all.

The helicopter eventually flew 72 times – and set a speed record on its 62nd flight and a height record on its 61st.

Sadly, Ingenuity's rotors were damaged by an unknown event. One even fell off, leaving NASA no choice but to ground it forever.

But as NASA's Tuesday announcement reveals, Ingenuity will live on – once again demonstrating it is an extraordinary machine. ®

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