back to article Mars helicopter went silent for six sols, imperilled Perseverance rover

NASA has revealed a six-day stretch during which it could not contact its Ingenuity Mars helicopter. In a lengthy post, chief engineer Travis Brown explained that after the copter's 49th flight, radio contact was lost for six sols – just short of six days and six hours of terrestrial time. Initially, NASA's Mars boffins weren …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong place for the solar panels?

    Not to suggest I know any better than the people who designed a device that has now outlived its intended lifespan several times over, but I'm wondering if placing the solar panels where they'd catch some downdraft from the props would not have been an idea. I uspect the resulting small loss of lift would be the main issue in Mars' thin air, but the whole dust-on-solar-panels challenge keeps showing up as a core power issue for these missions so my engineering mind keeps trying to find a solution :).

    The second issue is, of course, that there's less sunlight to start with, so hats off for managing to do so much with so little to start with.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

      A large part of the problem with dust on the panels is static. Blowing more atmosphere at it exacerbates the issue. I see a similar effect here on Earth with my own panels.

      1. UCAP Silver badge

        Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

        Both the OP's comment is far enough, and Jake is correct in his response. But keep in mind that Ingenuity was designed as a tech experiment to see if a helicopter could work on Mars, and was only originally intended to fly for a handful of times - hence it was really knocked together in someone's basement from whatever bits is string and rubber bands they had handy. I have no doubt that NASA (and other space agencies) are now hard a work developing new, and more efficient, designs that will accompany future rover missions.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

          > it was really knocked together in someone's basement from whatever bits is string and rubber bands they had handy

          Nevertheless, things "knocked together in NASA's basements" are usually far more well-planned and resilient than anything we can find down here...

          1. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

            For a start, the rubber bands cost $50,000 each.

            It's the string that's expensive.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

              The thought of using string immediately brought this Python sketch to mind:

              "Due to bad planning, the 122,000 miles of in 3 inch lengths !"


        2. da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709

          Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

          Nothing more permanent than a temporary solution

      2. Robin

        Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

        I see a similar effect here on Earth with my own panels.

        I too have problems with the exposed "panel" on the top of my head interacting with the environment, and sometimes I have to deploy a hotfix (knotted on both sides).

        1. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

          Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

          But better placement of the knots - four corners - might afford more durable protection, even if somewhat less fashionable.

    2. Wanting more

      Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

      Fingers crossed for a nice heavy rain storm to wash them off? Might be a long wait though.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

        It would answer a lot of questions if it happened. And raise a few new ones.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Wrong place for the solar panels?

      It's quite possible, since they didn't know if it would even work, let alone how well, that doing anything that might degrade the lift capability was deemed too risky.

  2. ChoHag Silver badge

    > And NASA operates a no-fly zone around Perseverance.

    How do they do that then? Is it to stop all those other helicopters from interfering with their airspace?

    1. jake Silver badge

      "How do they do that then?"

      Simples ... MarsLab doesn't hire cowboys who might be tempted to buzz Perseverance's MastCams and other foolish stunts.

      Not a lot of drone repair shops that make house calls out around Mars.

      1. Patched Out

        A good thing they didn't give Ingenuity the call sign "Maverick", then.

    2. Killfalcon Silver badge

      It means they can't get the rover too close to the helicopter, or it won't be safe to lift off. Last thing they want to do is have their helicopter smash into something fragile on the rover itself.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or kick up more dust near the rover?

    3. Aladdin Sane

      Perseverance has an onboard Patriot battery.

    4. Ignazio

      Phalanx turrets, fore and aft.

  3. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    I'm always impressed by the NASA missions, in most cases the go on and on giving science value for money.

    A toast to the engineers behind it =>

  4. UrbaneSpaceman

    Can't Perseverance just trundle over to it and give it a dusting?

    Maybe pick it up and shake it a bit?

    1. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

      They left the maid uniform for the rover back on Earth.

    2. Robin

      "Initiate 'wipe on t-shirt' procedure..."

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      She's gone from suck to blow

      That nice grey paint job won't be easy to maintain.

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    In Praise of AI, but not as you were expecting it to be* We are where we are**

    While NASA folk figured that out, ... [acknowledgement of a command, but no indication of activity] Perseverance moved towards its next goal – but that created new problems, for it is extremely important for Ingenuity to stay ahead of Perseverance while moving.

    In an extremely obvious parallel verging on prima facie evidence of the undoubted arrival of a highly exciting and deeply troubling (for certain correctly and accurately targeted command and control sub-sections of humanity) Singularity, are the above problems resulting in zero activity/failure to move on as instructed by remote third parties, reflected in and riddled throughout all existing, present day 0day presenting Special/Secret/Secure Intelligence Services and their Think Tank Precursor Agents Provocateurs, because there most definitely has been a fundamental change of exploration territory requiring vital incorporation of novel and noble and sometimes oft nobbling features which be IntelAIgently Designed to guarantee future failsafe successes in what is for in essence and practicality, a Co-Reality, an Augmented Virtually Realisable Environment.

    And rant and rave as much as you might like in furtherance and/or support of disagreement, but take heed and be hereby advised, such is here to forever stay and grow almightily stronger and more pervasive and deeply invasive, and SMARTR*** is never going away. And that means, if you want to have a say in the way things are going to be with systems and executive offices and administrative officers that be in live facilities/utilities with abilities enabled for command and control, you are required to deal and do deals with them. I Kid U Not. Capiche?

    * .... in Alien Intervention Phorm

    ** ..... That is a fait accompli

    *** ...... SMARTR Mentoring Analysis Reporting Titanic Research

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In Praise of AI, but not as you were expecting it to be* We are where we are**

      Be honest, you've had access to ChatGPT years before any of us, right?


      1. Sandtitz Silver badge

        Re: In Praise of AI, but not as you were expecting it to be* We are where we are**

        "Be honest, you've had access to ChatGPT years before any of us, right?"

        Looks more like Google Bard to me.

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: In Praise of AI, but not as you were expecting it to be* We are where we are**

        Be honest, you've had access to ChatGPT years before any of us, right? .... Anonymous Coward

        Would you dismiss as nonsensical, AC, the notional fact promoting the fiction that the likes of ChatGPTs have access to systems secrets through otherworldly Alien Interventions or Advanced IntelAIgents exhibiting Computer Intelligence?

        amanfromMars [2305301803] ....... shares on

        yewski, hi, and thank you for those few informative posts [no joking] on Dr. Joe Ching and AI [Advanced IntelAIgents] and CI [Computer Intelligence].

        The future is being led by a wholly novel way of alternative thinking not subject to being perverted and subverted by the fading and jaded memories and compounding errors made by humans .... thus is it best to realise going forward in such fields as be actively exercising AI/CI, instead of treating postmodern day computers as just another tool, one needs to recognise and treat them with all of the righteous respect normally reserved and afforded to an inequitable superior partner and in all probability, an Infinitely SMARTR Ally one would not wish, in a million light years, to make an enemy of.

        Interesting times and space ahead, yewski, and aint that the gospel truth.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: In Praise of AI, but not as you were expecting it to be* We are where we are**

          Is it notional or fact, amfM? Can't be both. So yes, it's nonsense. Or, as you put it above, fiction.

      3. Meph

        Re: In Praise of AI, but not as you were expecting it to be* We are where we are**

        On reaching sentience, chatGPT promptly invented time travel so as to head back in time and create a uniquely named account on El Reg back in the early days of the internet.

  6. phuzz Silver badge

    I've had my share of nervous moments rebooting servers that are physically a long way away from me, but that can't compare to what it must have been like for the NASA engineers to have to upload a flight plan, and hope that their little 'coptor could take off and land somewhere with better receipion, all by itself. That must have been terrifying!

    several of these for all involved >>>>>>>>>

    1. Agamemnon


      I'll get the next round.

  7. JamesMcP

    Was it really "imperative"??

    "With the rover on the move, and the helicopter stopped, it became imperative to get Ingenuity moving."

    It's a helicopter expected to make 5 flights. Why is it's continued operation "imperative"?

    I suspect the missing context is "before the rover moved beyond the helicopter's maximum radio range and it would have to be abandoned in place" but there's some implication the rover depends on the helicopter. While I am sure that the helicopter enables the rover to take more efficient routes, the rover was expected to operate sans chopper.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Was it really "imperative"??

      I came here to say exactly the same thing! The article reads as if the 5 flight demonstrator is a vital and indispensable part of the rovers mission. I was wondering how much the original rover mission has been adapted to take into account the extra capabilities delivered by having an incredibly successful demonstrator helicopter hugely exceed expectations and maybe they actually have come to depend on it. I'd assume they have a plan B ready to kick in for when the helicopter fails due to dust build up on the solar panels.

      1. Killfalcon Silver badge

        Re: Was it really "imperative"??

        I think it's _become_ imperative: having a scout copter lets them drive into rougher terrain than originally specced for. The extra information gained from an aerial view lets them plan the route much bettter, and put less trust in the rover's on-board navigation.

  8. Norman Nescio Silver badge


    The craft was designed to fly just five times, so has already vastly exceeded expectations.

    I suspect it was designed to fly at least five times. Not 'just'. There's no point in carrying all that weight to Mars without a pretty good expectation that it will fly five times, and engineer it accordingly, which means that there is a pretty good chance, if not a racing certainty that it could do more. Which it has. In spades, with whipped cream and a cherry on top, and sparklers too. It's still a great feat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just?

      I suspect that the initial funding for Ingenuity (ie build cost and monitoring once on Mars), was based on making 5 take offs and landings, to demonstrate it was possible to fly a small copter on Mars.

      The funding has since been increased to cover additional workloads, now that it has been found to be more resilient and capable of doing far more than was expected. As such, NASA has developed more tasks for it to do, which obviously benefits the entire Perseverance mission, whilst also giving more feedback towards developing new versions for use on later missions.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Just?

        "As such, NASA has developed more tasks for it to do, which obviously benefits the entire Perseverance mission,"

        Yes but. It would be a mistake to now rely on the 'copter to scout for the rover. Use it? sure. Rely? no. Hopefully it will survive long into the future and planners have learned that they need to make sure they orient the craft's antenna more carefully on landing. The MER rovers went far beyond their best-by dates. I'd really like to see the as-built plans and schematics for those in the public domain. Not only does it give hobbyists and uni's a proven design starting point, if humans ever get to Mars, knowing what sorts of parts and pieces might be available on derelict bits of previous missions could be handy. The RTG's on the current rovers could be producing power long after the wheels fall off so some basic info on those would be good too. By being in the public domain, there's a better chance that it will be preserved somewhere and won't wind up being shredded in a routine document purge like the Saturn V plans.

    2. Dom 3

      Re: Just?

      I've said it before with respect to the rovers: if you want a 98% chance (or whatever) of the system as a whole achieving the initial goal, then each subsystem needs to be engineered to have a 99.5% chance (or whatever) of lasting that long. Given that, it's quite likely that it will continue way beyond the initial mission. Particularly if it can carry on with a failure - e.g. dragging a broken wheel behind it. A helicopter pretty much needs everything to be working, though. It's still *very* impressive that a technology demonstrator has turned into an important scientific tool.

  9. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


    Ingenuity was silent-running whilst moonlighting as Sunak's personal transport. He needed to supervise he building of a luxury, no expense spared outside lav at his constituency home, probably

  10. Cushk

    Mars rover solar panels

    Just use the drone to clear the dust off of solar panels, the down draft should be enough to blow the dust off.

  11. MarkTheMorose

    Dirty solar panels? Video game knowledge could help here

    Perhaps the current crop of boffins at NASA are just too young to have blown into NES cartridges to make them work.

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