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Despite Ingenuity's inability to fly due to missing/damaged rotors, it remains in communication with Perseverance and Earth for now, sending back color images from navigation cameras and such.

Eventually, of course, the solar panel will likely become too dust-covered to keep it alive, but until then, is there any science that it can do from its now permanently landed position? Does it, for example, have the capability to measure the external temperature or similar? Is performing a time-lapse of the regolith in front of the navigation camera of any scientific merit?

If such is possible, has NASA indicated that they will pursue this, or is the Ingenuity team slated to be "disbanded" soon?

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    $\begingroup$ Good question. Note that any "extended" mission would only last until Perseverance moves out of communications range. $\endgroup$ Feb 18 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @CharlesStaats That comm range is about 250 meters in the case of the helicopter being on the ground -- and that's with no intervening hills to destroy line-of-sight. That's a few days of roving by the rover. The rover has already moved over some hills. $\endgroup$ Feb 18 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to add that all Ingenuity has is a camera that is facing down, an altimeter that isn't particularly useful anymore, and its transmitter. If I'm missing something than you can disregard this. $\endgroup$ Apr 1 at 20:34

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The mission of the Ingenuity helicopter has officially ended. There is no extended science mission for the helicopter. The primary purpose of the Perseverance rover is to rove. (Creep along might be a better term as the most that the rover has moved in one sol is 347.7 meters.) It has already gone 25 kilometers, and NASA and JPL plan to have it continue roving. This continued roving will soon put, or has already put, Perseverance out of communication range with Ingenuity.

The key issue here is not solar power or Mars dust. The key issue was that Ingenuity did not and could not communicate directly with Earth, or even with one of the Mars-orbiting communications satellites. All communications between the helicopter and the Earth went through the rover via a Zigbee (IEEE 802.15.4) line-of-sight comm link. This link was limited to a range of about 1000 meters while Ingenuity was flying, and to a range of only about 250 meters while the helicopter was on the ground. The Mars communication satellites aren't equipped with Zigbee antennae, and even if they were, the range limit of at most 1 km would rule them out.

This limitation has spelled the end of the mission for the extremely successful Ingenuity helicopter.

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  • $\begingroup$ The primary mission of Ingenuity ended a long time ago and it has since been doing additional research tasks. Obviously flying tasks are now over with, but I seem to have read, at least anecdotally that the team plans to stay in communication with Ingenuity as long as it is in range of Perseverance, and they are looking at various possible observations that it could do, as well as possibly tests spinning up the rotors and observing the effects on the surrounding terrain. So I don't know if it is fully accurate to say that the mission is done just yet, depending on the semantics. $\endgroup$ Feb 18 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @StevePemberton JPL officially said goodbye to Ingenuity more than three weeks ago. JPL is about to officially say goodbye to about 8% of their employees thanks to inflation and congressional stupidity. JPL is desperately looking for projects to zero-out, and axing the staff working on Ingenuity is unfortunately an easy target. It's important to remember that JPL is not a NASA site. They are a not-for-profit NASA contractor. NASA, like many organizations faced by budget cuts, looks to first force contractors to take those cuts before taking it out on their own direct employees. $\endgroup$ Feb 18 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ Again not trying to argue semantics, but in the "Mission has ended" press conference on 1/25/2024 they stated that there would be continued activity, "we are interested in trying to collect as much data as we can as the Perseverance rover continues on its important mission... we will lose contact in the days weeks and months ahead depending on the rover's plans... during that time we'll collect solar panel measurements, we'll collect thermal measurements, we will also correlate our telecom radio strength (which can) improve models, and the images may be interesting to geologists and scientists $\endgroup$ Feb 18 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Have to agree with Steve here. This question is mainly about the technical possibility of extending the mission and the potential scientific benefits. I'd like to see a source cited for "This limitation has spelled the end of the mission" since there's nothing technical that would stop Perseverance from circling back into range to download data - JPL budgetary challenges notwithstanding. $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Feb 19 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ @phil1008 - I think the answer is correct, my original comment, which perhaps could have been worded better, was that while the mission has officially ended they did plan to continue to try and get some data from it as long as they could. However I have not found any indication to what extent they have done this, or if it is still ongoing. As pointed out by DavidHammen it is conceivable that Perseverance has already moved out of range. However I tend to think that when that happens it will be announced. But that's not a given either, there may be a delay in getting any official information. $\endgroup$ Feb 19 at 12:26
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The public information that we have is what was stated during the NASA media teleconference on January 25, 2024 when it was announced that the Ingenuity mission has ended. During the press conference the following question was asked (timestamp 32:00)

Does Ingenuity have the ability to serve as a stationary science mission like as a lander, kind of like Insight, that kind of style mission in the future?

The question was answered by Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity project manager, NASA JPL:

There are no science payloads on Ingenuity itself. Ingenuity is a technology demonstration aircraft, it carries no additional payloads. We are interested in trying to collect as much data as we can as the Perseverance rover continues on its important mission to the west, and eventually as the rover drives to the west up the crater rim at Jezero we will lose contact. And that will happen in the days weeks and months ahead of us here depending on the rover's plans. Once that happens any hope to get additional information back from Ingenuity is gone, we won't be able to communicate. During that time we'll collect solar panel measurements, we'll collect thermal measurements, we will also correlate our telecom radio strength, and there's information you can glean from that to improve models. And especially the images also may be interesting to geologists and scientists, but that's effectively it.

As of now Perseverance is still in the general vicinity of Ingenuity, in fact it is quite a bit closer than it was when the mission officially ended. On February 4th Perseverance was close enough to be able to take a photo of Ingenuity.

Ingenuity photo Ingenuity February 4, 2024 (NASA)

Using the Perseverance location map on the NASA Mars 2020 Mission website, and by doing some pixel counts I estimated the current distance between Perseverance and Ingenuity, compared to the distance when the mission ended. In the map below Perseverance is shown at its current position as of February 15, 2024, not far from where the photo was taken. Note that Perseverance backtracked a little in order to study a feature that was seen in a photo, which is why the blue icon is a bit to the east of a stop that it made on February 11th.

Perseverance route map

Perseverance spent some additional time in this location in order to do some sample work on a rock that the scientists were interested in, and also due to a technical difficulty with an instrument cover that kept the arm from retracting.

The next stop for Perseverance is a location named the Beehive Geyser. I was not able to find this exact location however it is stated as being 500 meters west of the current location, so I estimated this location on the above map. The estimated distance from the Beehive Geyser location to Ingenuity also happens to be 500 meters. Looking at the map it seems possible that Perseverance will still be in communication with Ingenuity when it is at the Beehive geyser.

To put these distances in perspective, the map below shows the current location (upper left-hand corner) in relation to the 25 kilometers that Perseverance has travelled in the three years since it landed.

Perseverance route map

As mentioned by Teddy Tzanetos during the teleconference, it is expected that communication with Ingenuity will be lost when Perseverance begins climbing up the rim of Jezero crater. Until now Perseverance has been inside Jezero crater, but as it reaches Beehive Geyser it will be close to the rim.

Jezero Crater

Update

As of March 20th, 2024 the Perseverance Rover continues to explore an area near the Ingenuity helicopter. In fact in recent days the rover has moved a bit closer to Ingenuity.

Ingenuity location March 20, 2024



Meanwhile Ingenuity has been taking daily photos from its black and white navigation camera which is facing downwards at the ground, and from the color camera which is facing 22 degrees below the horizon. Below are the most recent photos from February 22nd which is the latest date for uploaded Ingenuity photos, as there apparently is a delay in getting Ingenuity photos sent to Earth and processed, since this is presumably lower priority compared to Perseverance data.

Ingenuity photos 2-22-2024 Ingenuity color camera and navigation camera, February 22, 2024 (NASA

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    $\begingroup$ thanks for linking to and partially-transcribing the teleconference. Like Scott Maxwell's blog "Mars and Me" about driving the MER rovers talks about sometimes, in any area the geologists will probably be excited to poke literally every available rock, but the rover's job is also to rove, and Ingenuity can't keep up anymore. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 19 at 20:00
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Ingenuity's final landing spot, nicknamed “Valinor Hills” after the fictional location in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, may provide it with an ideal vantage point to study the dynamics of dune systems on Mars.

enter image description here (ref)

enter image description here (ref)

A better understanding of dunes may help engineers design rovers and other vehicles that are more capable and less likely to become stuck or experience rollover.

In the future, the use of the cut-and-cover technique for building tunnels on Mars could be facilitated by the natural processes of dune creation.

While some of this behavior can be studied from orbit, close-up images of the shifting sand may help improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms by which dune systems evolve in the Martian environment.

enter image description here

enter image description here

The computer on Ingenuity is a Snapdragon 801 chip with a 2.26GHz quad-core Arm-compatible system-on-chip, 2GB RAM, and 32GB flash memory (ref). Therefore Ingenuity does not need to be in constant communication with Perseverance to continue doing useful science. It can snap pictures occasionally, compress them efficiently (especially when they don't change much), and save these pictures until Perseverance can return within range to receive a data dump.

Update

Responding to a question asked during an ask-me-anything session on Reddit that took place on Feb 22nd, 2024, a NASA official said...

The team continues to run vehicle health checks while snapping images of the Martian surface. Though we mostly see the sand below us with the color camera, Martian scientists can learn about geological processes by having a series of images taken from one spot to see how dust, sand, and rock particles move in response to Martian weather and wind.

Additional Update

On March 22nd, 2024 Anton Petrov released a video in which he describes Ingenuity's extended science mission. In it he says...

It's still releasing images - very actively.

Images of the same spot taken by Ingenuity's downward facing camera.

It's taking pictures of exactly the same spot and sending them back to Earth from its downward-facing camera, and this only has one purpose learning about geological processes on Mars by sort of creating a timelapse showing us how all of this changes over time. Now it's not done yet - it's actually not done processing the images and it's going to be taking a few more, but eventually, this will probably teach us a lot about how dust and various tiny particles of rock respond to Martian weather and Martian wind.

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    $\begingroup$ do you contend that the dunes can be studied somehow without Ingenuity being able to send its observations anywhere? $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 18 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ This challenge/question is based on an invalid assumption. See comments from various people made above. $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Feb 19 at 4:13
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    $\begingroup$ The clarification that Perseverance would need to return is helpful. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 19 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ The images that Anton showed in his March 22nd video are somewhat misleading, although I'm sure unintentional, as he seems to have just done a quick screen grab from the JPL site. Other than the first four, all of the photos shown were taking milliseconds apart on February 22nd by the navigation camera which images at 30 frames per second. The first four photos including two from the color camera were taken an hour later. February 22nd is the latest date for uploaded Ingenuity photos as there apparently is a delay in getting photos sent to Earth and processed, since this is low priority $\endgroup$ Mar 23 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ The recent NSF interview with Ingenuity's chief engineer mentions data storage but unclear if photos will be stored. He mentions solar data, temperature, and photos of sand movement, then says the rover will go out of range, then "We are going to store the data. We recently did a flight software update so that the data doesn't get wiped, we've got something like 20 years of storage space. So we'll just keep taking data every day for the next 20 years, and if the rover comes back we'll just pull all that data down, of like 5, 10 years of solar trending depending on when the rover comes through" $\endgroup$ Mar 25 at 3:14

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