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Mars helicopter Ingenuity ready to fly again as radio link is restored

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Mars helicopter Ingenuity ready to fly again as radio link is restored
A NASA illustration shows the Mars helicopter Ingenuity on the surface of the Red Planet near the Perseverance rover. Image courtesy of NASA

Dec. 15 (UPI) -- NASA has regained its radio link with the Mars helicopter Ingenuity and plans its 18th flight on the Red Planet as early as Wednesday, the agency announced.

NASA had lost radio contact -- except for very brief transmissions -- after Ingenuity's Flight 17 on Dec. 5. Hills between the helicopter and the Perseverance rover blocked the link.

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But the Mars helicopter's team said in a press release that it was able to downlink more data Friday.

That new data "indicates that Flight 17 was a success and that Ingenuity is in excellent condition," the announcement said.

The data also confirmed Ingenuity's total flight time on Mars has exceeded 30 minutes, NASA said. The tiny helicopter was designed to fly only a few minutes over 30 days as a technology demonstration, but is is nearing eight months of operation.

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The new milestones attest to the quality of design and the passion of the helicopter's team, Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead, said in the press release.

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"Few thought we would make it to flight one, fewer still to five. And no one thought we would make it this far," he said.

Plans for Flight 18 call for flying about 754 feet at a speed of 5.6 mph over 125 seconds. The helicopter is moving back toward Perseverance's original landing site as the rover and helicopter prepare to move in another direction.

Engineers have altered the helicopter's communication link to operate in a safe mode during flight, meaning it won't relay as much data, but that should boost the signal, NASA said.

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Dispatches from Mars: Perseverance rover sends images

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover, using its Mastcam-Z camera system, captured this view of the Martian sunset on November 9, 2021, the 257th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Martian sunsets typically stand out for their distinctive blue color as fine dust in the atmosphere permits blue light to penetrate the atmosphere more efficiently than colors with longer wavelengths. But this sunset looks different: Less dust in the atmosphere resulted in a more muted color than average. The color has been calibrated and white-balanced to remove camera artifacts. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo

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