The helicopter of ingenuity crashed for the first time due to unusual weather on Mars

The Ingenuity helicopter, which was scheduled to take to the skies of Mars on January 5, had to push back its 19th flight due to an unusually strong regional dust storm on Mars, according to NASA.

Now the team expects this flight to take place on Sunday, January 23rd.

While Mars is smaller and has a less dense atmosphere than Earth, the red planet still experiences the change of seasons and strong winds, dust storms and ice clouds.

Orbiters orbiting the planet and instruments aboard missions such as the Perseverance rover and the InSight lander help scientists better understand the weather on Mars, but like the uncertainty factor meteorologists experience on Earth, it is even harder to predict the weather on a second planet.

Understanding the weather and seasonal changes ahead of Ingenuity’s flights has been crucial to the success of its previous 18 air trials. The small 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter has flown through spring and summer conditions on Mars, and fall begins on February 24th.

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As the seasons change, air density goes through a cycle of ups and downs on Mars. Air tightness is one of two crucial factors when it comes to calculating favorable conditions for flight on Mars. Wind speed is the second factor.

Perseverance has its own weather station called MEDA, or Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer, to help NASA teams calculate airtightness and measure wind speed over the course of a day, as well as how they change over the course of the seasons.

The arrival of autumn on Mars is known as the “dust season” on Mars, because it is when the amount of dust in the atmosphere increases globally and remains this way through the winter.

Dust is the biggest threat to Mars missions. A planet-enclosing dust storm ended the Opportunity rover’s impressive 15-year journey in 2019 by draining and preventing its batteries from recharging.

Dust in the atmosphere can reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the solar panels that carry out missions like Ingenuity. This elevated dust, which is heated by sunlight, also warms the atmosphere and reduces the air tightness even more.

The unifying storm

The Ingenuity team expected a surprise when an unusually strong dust storm appeared in the Jezero Crater region on the first day of 2022, arriving well ahead of the dusty season.

“In fact, we’ve never seen a storm of this strength so early on Mars the year before,” Jonathan Bapst and Michael Mischna, members of the Ingenuity Weather and Environment Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, wrote in an update.

Persistence first discovered that the January storm was approaching as dust lifted around the two robot explorers in the Jezero crater.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took pictures on January 9, showing the presence of a regional dust storm over the location of the Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter (marked with the white circle).

From orbit, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed a growing regional dust storm moving from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere on Mars. From the orbiter’s perspective, it looked like the storm was possibly heading toward the crater and the two robots in it.

After a dust storm reduced the sunlight that could reach its solar panels, the InSight lander, which is more than 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) east of Perseverance, went into safe mode on January 7th.

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The team called to delay the flight and it turned out that they had the right to do so. Just after they exposed Ingenuity’s air jump, the dust storm passed over the crater. Perseverance’s weather station reflected the changes caused by the storm.

The storm has since cleared, and Ingenuity is preparing to flee again.

What’s next

The experience of this event has helped the helicopter team prepare for what to expect when the dusty season arrives. Storms that emerge during this time can be transformed into global storms swept across Mars in 2001, 2007 and 2018.

Above all, the team wants Ingenuity to continue its history with safe, groundbreaking flights, as it acts as an air scout for Perseverance on its journey to seek potential evidence of ancient life on the red planet.

Pebble-sized debris can be seen blocking the sample collection process on the Perseverance rover.

Perseverance is failing its own problems right now in the form of some annoying stray pebbles that have prevented the rover from storing its seventh specimen, which was originally collected on December 29th. Eventually, the rover may have to dump the current sample into the tube and try to Collect another from the same stone.

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During Flight 19, Ingenuity will essentially continue a reverse version of its journey so far. Both Perseverance and the chopper go back in their first steps in the Jezero Crater to begin the next phase of their shared adventure: exploring the remains of an ancient river delta that once broke into the lake that filled the Jezero Crater more than 3 billion years ago .

Samples from the delta could help scientists better understand when water existed on Mars – and whether life has ever existed on the red planet.


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