Over on Mars, the situation for our favorite little Martian helicopter has taken a turn for the worse. Winter is coming, and that had already been a huge concern as dust storms increase, sunlight decreases, and Ingenuity’s solar panels and battery are not standing up to the strain. To cope with the seasonal change, Ingenuity is being shut down during the night to conserve power. However, this new program means that the electronic components aren’t being heated during the cold Martian nights, either.
And now one of the navigation sensors – the inclinometer – has failed. This particular sensor is used to determine the direction of gravity prior to take-off to make sure the launch direction is correct. The inclinometer is not an in-flight sensor, but it is necessary to get into flight.
Fortunately, NASA engineers design lots of possible redundancies into spacecraft – even test drones on other planets – in case something fails. For Ingenuity, that means that a different sensor – the inertial measurement unit – can be used to impersonate the inclinometer… just with less accuracy. The operations team believes that using this method will still allow for a safe take-off, which means our helicopter can continue flying.
For as long as the solar power holds out, of course.
NASA status update