NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Will Never Fly Again on Mars Because of Rotor Damage

After flying for the 72nd time on Mars, the first Mars Ingenuity helicopter will never fly again because of the severe robot-damage damage it encountered during that flight. On January 25, NASA officially announced that the chopper was “no longer capable of flight,” as the ground team could not remotely repair the rotor-blade damage of the helicopter. This is to say that the chopper has made its final flight on Mars.

“The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to an end,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.

“That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best — make the impossible, possible,” Nelson added. “Through missions like Ingenuity, NASA is paving the way for future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond.”

What NASA has accomplished on Mars Using the Ingenuity Helicopter

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter landed on the floor of Mars’ Jezero Crater alongside the Perseverance rover in February 2021. The world celebrated this milestone as it marked the beginning of a new era of exploring the Martian terrain with a helicopter. NASA sent the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) rotorcraft to Mars to prove that powered flight is also possible on Mars even though the planet has a thin atmosphere.

The initial plan was to fly the Ingenuity helicopter on a five-flight campaign. However, after completing these five flights, NASA saw that the chopper was still active to do more. Hence, the agency gave the Ingenuity helicopter an extended mission on Mars. During this extended mission, the chopper worked in collaboration with the Perseverance rover in search of evidence of ancient life on Mars.

The rotorcraft conducted 67 flights during this new campaign. If surpassed the expectations of the mission ground control team. The initial mission of the ingenuity helicopter was planned to last for only 30 days.

However, it remained active and operational on the Martian terrains for nearly three years. It flew for nearly 129 minutes during its 72 flights on Mars, covering about 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) of ground, according to the mission’s flight log.

How Ingenuity Helicopter Ended Its Extended Mission on Mars

This image shows the shadow of a damaged rotor on NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity, was captured after its 72nd and final flight on Jan. 18, 2024 on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity Helicopter suffered some problems while making its final flight to Mars on Jan. 18.

“During that mission, communications between the helicopter and rover terminated early, prior to touchdown,” NASA said in a statement.

After the loss of communications, NASA’s ground team succeeded in reestablishing contact with the rotorcraft. However, the images the chopper captured during the Jan. 18 Martian flight showed that one or more of its four rotor blades “sustained damage during landing,” NASA officials wrote in today’s update.

Even though the Ingenuity Helicopter will never fly again on Mars, it has created a legacy that will be remembered for centuries. Its accomplishments in exploring Mars will enable space agencies to send aerial missions to the red planet and other celestial bodies in the future. Currently, NASA is planning to send two Ingenuity-like helicopters to support Perseverance in collecting samples and returning these samples to Earth.

The American Space Agency is also working on larger and more sophisticated helicopters that could possibly conduct scientific experiments on their own on Mars in the future. We should be looking up to an exciting future of exploring the red planet using more advanced helicopters someday.

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