from the could-this-be-the-end-of-our-plucky-hero?-Tune-in-next-week! dept.
The Ingenuity helicopter has made 28 flights traveling about 7 km across the surface of Mars. Lately it has been accumulating dust on its solar panels making it hard to recharge its batteries. Recently they lost contact with the vehicle and they figured that its battery had run out, but after sunrise the batteries would charge enough that it would boot up and try to contact the rover, Perseverance.
So, the engineering team commanded Perseverance to halt all of its ongoing science activities for a full day to essentially sit there and listen intently for Ingenuity's call. The significance of this is that the helicopter was initially viewed as an add-on technology demonstration. Some of the rover's leadership team did not even want the added risk of bringing Ingenuity along. The helicopter was supposed to make five experimental flights in 30 days and then be set aside. Now, the entire Mars mission was being put on hold, nearly 13 months after Ingenuity's first flight, in the hopes of saving the small vehicle.
Well, happily, Ingenuity did call home after about 24 hours. According to NASA, the link was stable, and the solar array managed to charge its batteries to 41 percent. The engineers say they hope to resume Ingenuity's flight campaign within the next several days, after bringing the helicopter's batteries to a full charge.
This may be the beginning of the end, however. They've dropped the set point for the keep-alive heaters from -15C to -40C to conserve energy, and it isn't clear how long the commercial-off-the-shelf components in the system will last at these temperatures as it enters into the Martian winter.