Mars helicopter mission ends over rotor damage

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, the first to fly on another planet, has damaged one of its rotor blades while on a mission on the Red planet, forcing the craft to the ground for good.

Even though the helicopter can no longer fly, it’s still standing upright and can communicate with ground controllers, NASA said. According to the space agency, it learned about the issue via pictures the craft sent back to Earth, indicating rotor damage.

Despite only being designed to perform up to five test flights over 30 days, the craft operated for nearly three years, carried out 72 flights, and flew 14 times farther than initially planned, logging over two hours of total flight time. The craft was the first aircraft that humans have sent to another planet.

Ingenuity arrived on Mars on February 18th, 2021, with NASA’s Perseverance rover and had its first flight on April 19th of the same year. The historic attempt proved that controlled flight on Mars, a planet with an atmosphere 100 times thinner than on Earth, was possible.

According to NASA, the helicopter’s final flight was on January 18th. The craft reached 40 feet (12 meters) and hovered for several seconds. However, around 3 feet (1 meter) from the ground during descent, it lost comms with the Perseverance rover, which serves as a comms relay for the rotorcraft. Later imagery revealed that the craft sustained damage to the rotor.

“The Mars helicopter would have never flown once, much less 72 times if it were not for the passion and dedication of the Ingenuity and Perseverance teams. History’s first Mars helicopter will leave behind an indelible mark on the future of space exploration and will inspire fleets of aircraft on Mars – and other worlds – for decades to come,” Teddy Tzanetos of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab said.

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