On January 25, 2024, NASA administrator Bill Nelson confirmed that the Mars Ingenuity helicopter is no longer able to fly after one of its carbon fiber rotors was damaged during a landing.
With this announcement, the US space agency has put an end to the Ingenuity mission, which has deployed a small rotorcraft to explore the red planet over the last three years.
Though the helicopter remains on the surface of Mars and can communicate with the control center back on Earth, it is not possible to repair the damaged rotor and make it fly again.
Over the last three years, Ingenuity has far exceeded all expectations. Not only has it been able to operate in an atmospheric volume that is 1% of that on Earth, but it has also demonstrated an impressive degree of endurance.
Ingenuity was originally designed to perform up to five short experimental test flights over 30 days, but it ended up performing 72 flights over a period of three years. It also flew more than 14 times further than planned, logging a total flight time of over two hours.
As part of the same mission, on April 19, 2021, Ingenuity also achieved another milestone, that of being the first aircraft to perform a powered controlled flight on another planet.
The rotorcraft also worked in tandem with the Perseverance rover, acting as a scout and identifying sites on which to conduct ground research.
During the course of the mission, NASA engineers upgraded Ingenuity’s systems and capabilities several times – for example, adding autonomous landing sites capabilities in difficult terrain, the capacity to operate with inactive sensors or adapting its systems to cope with the extremely cold Martian winter nights.
Since scientists still have access to Ingenuity’s systems, NASA will still be able to perform some tests while it remains grounded. Images collected by its sensors will be also remotely retrieved.
Nelson paid tribute to the little helicopter and its achievements while announcing the cessation of its flight operations, affirming that Ingenuity had helped pave the way for future flights in our Solar System and further exploration of Mars and beyond.
Symbolically, Ingenuity carried a small patch of material to Mars from the Wright brothers’ original Flyer aircraft.