It’s hard to believe today that just two years ago, shortly after the Perseverance rover landed on Mars, engineers were giving the first drone on the Red Planet a maximum of 30 days to live. Time flies, months pass, years pass, and this one still has no intention of letting go.

Ingenuity landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, attached to the underbelly of the Perseverance rover. Its task was to test the ability to perform controlled flights over the planet’s surface. For the first few weeks, the drone remained attached to the rover, searching for a suitable location for its first extraterrestrial “airfield.” On April 3, 2021, the rover was placed on the surface of Mars and the rover’s power supply was cut off.

The plan was to start the device’s rotors and slowly ascend to a height of 1.5 meters, then land in the same place. If this was successful, in the next maximum of four flights, engineers planned to perform increasingly complex maneuvers. In the most optimistic scenario, Ingenuity was to make five flights over the next 30 Martian days. Everything else was to be a kind of bonus to the mission.

This, by the way, was the reaction of the Ingenuity team after making the first flight:

More than two years have passed since then

Over the past two years, Ingenuity has made dozens of flights accompanying the Perseverance rover in traversing the Jezero crater. What’s more, during its mission, the drone has already had its problems, including a case of inflight software failure. Nevertheless, so far there have been as many takeoffs as landings.

Almost exactly 26 months after its first flight, Ingenuity made its 52nd career flight on April 26, 2023. Everything was going well until the landing. During the drone’s landing, operators from the mission control center lost contact with the drone and all attempts to reestablish it failed. The final flight lasted nearly two minutes, during which Ingenuity covered a distance of 363 meters.

Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

It should be noted here, however, that the operators allowed for the possibility of signal loss, as there was a hill between the drone and the rover. Ingenuity itself does not contact the Earth directly, but uses the rover for this very purpose.

Either way, the break in communication lasted a record 63 days. Not surprisingly, then, the drone’s operators welcomed the renewed signal from the drone as it reached Earth a few days ago. More importantly, all indications are that the 52nd landing was as successful as all before it and the drone is ready for more flights.

By Rad Kos

Author of OuterSpace24. Astronomy communicator. Writing daily about space since 2015. Over 6000 news articles under the belt.