Perseverance Rover

Ingenuity Won’t Fly Again Because It’s Missing a Rotor Blade

Ingenuity has been the first aerial vehicle on another world. NASA announced the end of the Martian helicopter’s life at the end of its 72nd flight. During the flight there had been a problem on landing and, following the incident a few photos revealed chips in one of the rotor blades but nothing too serious. New images have been revealed that show the craft is missing one of its rotor blades entirely! 

Mars Ingenuity was developed by NASA as a small lightweight drone that made history by becoming the first powered flight on Mars. It was part of the mission that took the Perseverance rover to Mars in February 2021.  Undertaking powered flights in the thin Martian atmosphere it demonstrated that powered flight was possible as it surveyed the surrounding area for items of interest for further exploration. 

Image of the Mars Ingenuity helicopter (Source : NASA)

The construction was the brainchild of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory who oversaw the construction on behalf of the agency. NASA’s Ames Research Centre and Langley Research Center played a significant role in flight performance analysis and technical support. 

On board the vehicle was some cutting edge technology that was tailored for the conditions on Mars. First of course, are the rotors, the thin atmosphere on Mars mean larger than usual blades were needed to generate the lift required. It was built with lightweight materials like carbon fibre to make it as efficient as possible, new and efficient solar cells that would drive the autonomous navigation systems. It was equipped with sensors and cameras to enable data collection of the Martian terrain to send back to Perseverance rover and controllers on Earth. 

Ingenuity had been flying in a terrain with few rocks – which it uses in some part for navigation – and so had been experiencing difficulties. On 6 Jan it made an emergency landing because it couldn’t accurately identify its location. It happened again on the next flight but this time it seems to have come down at an angle and struck the ground with one of its rotors. Images suggested it had suffered some chips on one of the rotor blades however, recent images reveal the damage is more severe.

On 11 Feb, NASA used the black and white navigation camera to record a video showing the shadow of the rotors turning. It was an ingenious idea by the engineers to try and understand the extent of the damage to the 1.2m blades. To their surprise the footage revealed that one fo the blades, the upper blade seems to be absent! It looks like the blade detected near the mast. 

Source : Ingenuity’s Navcam Reveals a Missing Rotor Blade 

Mark Thompson

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