NASA’s Mars Helicopter Breaks a Blade and Will Never Fly Again

NASA’s Mars Helicopter Breaks a Blade and Will Never Fly Again

After nearly three years of flying across the Martian terrain, the Ingenuity helicopter has finally ended its mission. NASA declared Thursday that Ingenuity had sustained damage to a blade during its most recent landing and would not make another flight.

Images of Ingenuity’s last flight—its 72nd on Mars—which took place on January 18, revealed that one or more of its rotor blades were damaged and that the helicopter will no longer be able to fly, NASA announced. “The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to end,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. “That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best – make the impossible, possible.”


Ingenuity launched to Mars in February 2021, tucked inside the belly of the Perseverance rover. On April 19, 2021, the 19-inch tall, 4-pound helicopter became the first powered aircraft to lift off from the surface of another planet.

It’s been quite a ride for this tiny rotorcraft, which was originally designed to perform just five test flights over 30 days. Unable to leave its robot companion’s side, the Mars helicopter just wouldn’t let up, surpassing all expectations by completing 72 flights and flying 14 times farther than planned. It racked up a total flight time of two hours.

Its success proved that powered, controlled flight on Mars was possible, paving the way for future aircrafts to fly over different worlds across the solar system.

During its last flight, Ingenuity reached a maximum altitude of 40 feet (12 meters) and hovered above the surface of Mars for 4.5 seconds before starting its descent at a velocity of 3.3 feet per second (1 meter per second), according to NASA. Right before touching down on the Martian surface, however, Ingenuity lost contact with the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity relies on Perseverance to relay its communications to Earth, using shiny antennas to exchange data at about 100 kilobits per second. The data is routed from the Ingenuity-facing antenna to the rover’s main computer before being transferred to Earth by way of an orbiting spacecraft.

Without the help of ground control, Ingenuity may have fumbled its landing, resulting in the damage to its blades. NASA is still investigating the cause of the communication blackout.

At least the otherworldly chopper went out in style. Over the past three years, Ingenuity fully outgrew its testing phase and became a handy sidekick to Perseverance, upgraded with the ability to autonomously choose landing sites on Mars and help its rover friend along the treacherous terrain. It is certainly leaving a great legacy; we just hope the Martian rover won’t be too lonely without its hovering friend.

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