One of the craziest experiments a part of the Mars 2020 mission, Ingenuity the small helicopter attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, has messaged home to controllers at JPL. It saying that it and its base station are in good health on Friday. This is the first transmissions teams have gotten of the helicopter since it landed on the surface of Mars the day before, an important step in getting the helicopter ready to fly.

Ingenuity Helicopter Update

The downlink happened Friday at 6:30 PM Est via the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter through NASA’s Deep Space Network which is also monitored by JPL. The message that was sent gave info on the status of the helicopter and its base station that has all the electronics that will control the helicopter during flight.

Both are currently healthy and operating as expected since landing on Mars. Ingenuity will stay under the belly of Perseverance for at least another one to two months before it will be released and begin its flight testing campaign.

“There are two big-ticket items we are looking for in the data: the state of charge of Ingenuity’s batteries as well as confirmation the base station is operating as designed, commanding heaters to turn off and on to keep the helicopter’s electronics within an expected range. Both appear to be working great. With this positive report, we will move forward with tomorrow’s charge of the helicopter’s batteries.”

Tim Canham, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Operations Lead at JPL

The controllers at JPL did the first boot and battery charge while it was continuing its cruise to Mars. Learning from the data they got back then, they began a charging session of Ingenuity’s batteries using Perseverance’s MMRTG that gives the rover power. Mission controllers are working to conserve the lifespan of the off-the-shelf batteries being used and plan to charge the batteries slowly over the next couple of weeks.

Ingenuity shown stowed on the underside of Perseverance. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

If Ingenuity safely completes its first flight in the Martian air, it will complete about 90% of its mission objectives. This mission is to demonstrate that flight is even possible on another planet and there are a lot of unknowns about how the hardware and software made to fly a drone autonomously will work.

“We are in uncharted territory, but this team is used to that. Just about every milestone from here through the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each has to succeed for us to go on to the next. We’ll enjoy this good news for the moment, but then we have to get back to work.”

MiMi Aung, Project Manager for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL

Next Batch of Entry Descent and Landing Images coming Monday

Shortly after Mars 2020 landed on the Martian surface, we got photos from the rover’s HazCams of the surface, the first of many photos that Perseverance will take. This mission brought with it some of the most high-tech and high-resolution cameras to another planet and we got to see a sneak peek of what to see next last Friday.

Image taken from Skycrane moments before touchdown. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Normally we would see a stream of images being brought in as soon as they are downlinked from the rover. This time, NASA is controlling the release of images a little closer, they wish to release the full video taken of landing when all the images have been downloaded.

While many wish to see the images as soon as they are downloaded, like previous missions, it will be extremely rewarding when we all get to see the footage for the first time across the globe. These will be first-of-its-kind footage and it will be amazing to see.

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