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The planet Mars is very similar to the Earth not only in size, but also in other features. For example, it rotates around its axis with almost the same inclination – this provides it with a change of seasons. The duration of the seasons in each hemisphere of the planet is different.
For example, on the north side summer is long and not so warm, while on the south side it is short but very comfortable. Soon a cold winter will come on Mars, during which the air temperature will drop to -125 degrees. On the surface of the planet are NASA research vehicles, among which are the Perseverance rover and the accompanying Ingenuity helicopter.
Recently, scientists for the first time since the arrival of vehicles to Mars in February 2021 lost contact with one of them, and the approaching winter turned out to be the reason. Contact has already been restored, but NASA needs to come up with a way to protect them from future breakdowns. What will the scientists do?
Loss of communication with the rover and helicopter
NASA lost contact with an Ingenuity helicopter for the first time on May 3, 2022. Scientists learned about the disconnect when the aircraft missed daily registration – it regularly receives and sends signals to report its health.
However, on one of the dusty and cold nights, the apparatus used up all its energy and turned off. Then he replenished the charge with the help of solar panels, but it turned out that his clock was lost. Therefore, the Perseverance rover had to go into standby mode until it received a signal from the helicopter.
Preparing Ingenuity for the Martian Winter
Considering that the plan was for the Ingenuity helicopter to operate for no more than 30 days, a failure after more than a year of operation is an amazing result. It would be too optimistic to expect that the first ever flying vehicle on Mars will operate without interruption for years.
After a break in communication, contact was restored, but the next time the helicopter could completely fail. The fact is that winter is coming on Mars, and the climate will become even more dusty and cold.
To prevent possible problems, specialists from NASA sent him commands that will allow him to save energy – it is expected that the charge will no longer sit down. Most of all, the helicopter spends energy on heating, so the project managers decided to forbid the device to frequently turn on the heaters.
During winter on Mars, the heating elements will only turn on at -40 degrees Celsius. For comparison, before the helicopter began to heat itself at -15 degrees Celsius. Infrequent use of heaters should help the device conserve battery power.
Our top priority is to keep in touch with the helicopter for several Martian days,” said Ingenuity mission leader Teddy Tzanetos.
Of course, in the absence of heating, the internal systems of the device can fail – the likelihood of such an outcome of events increases many times. But there is no other way out, you have to choose the least of two evils. In addition, scientists hope that nothing bad will happen to the helicopter due to frost.
It is hoped that after freezing, the internal elements will melt and reactivate. In general, at the moment there is nothing to guess – how the Ingenuity helicopter will survive the Martian winter, time will tell.
The search for life on Mars continues
Initially, NASA just wanted to see if the Ingenuity helicopter could take off on Mars. It turned out that it can, and how ! At the moment, the aircraft is used to lay the easiest paths for the Perseverance rover. After all, they are located on the Jezero crater, covered with irregularities, which once upon a time could be a lake with liquid water.
The Perseverance vehicle moves through different parts of this area and carefully collects soil samples. Once collected, it will send them to Earth and scientists can carefully study them in the laboratory. It is possible that in the Martian soil there will be alien bacteria, or at least their remains – then it will be possible to assume that life exists not only on Earth.