Mars Ingenuity is the first aircraft to be forced to land on another planet owing to bad weather

All of us have gone to that place. But until this month, we haven’t had a flight that was delayed because of bad weather on another planet.

After an unexpected dust storm raced over the area, NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter, due for flight 19 on the red planet, had to postpone its planned takeoff on January 5, 2022.

The flight has been scheduled for the 23rd of January

Weather prediction is difficult in the best of conditions, but attempting to do so on a planet millions of kilometres away is close to rocket science.

In a statement, Jonathan Bapst and Michael Mischna of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ingenuity Weather/Environment Team stated, “As weather forecasters, our duty is to give an appraisal of current weather conditions versus flight objectives.”

“What are these acceptable and safe flying requirements?” The air density and wind speed are two important factors that influence favourable circumstances.

“Although we don’t have the benefit of a big number of weather stations or orbiting weather satellites like we have on Earth, we do have a variety of techniques at our disposal to evaluate whether conditions are suitable for flight on Mars.”

The Mars Environmental Dynamic Analyzer (MEDA) on the neighbouring Mars Perseverance rover, for example, can detect air density, wind speed, and direction throughout the day, providing engineers on Earth with the data they need to identify variations in the climate owing to seasonal changes on the planet.

This is, in fact, a really dangerous problem

While it’s amusing to joke about delayed flights, we must keep in mind that solar power is required to operate drones on Mars, and dust in the atmosphere may be catastrophic to a mission.

That’s precisely what occurred to the Mars Opportunity rover, its career-high 14-year mission on Mars was cut short in 2018 after a large dust storm engulfed it and stopped its solar panels from charging its batteries.

The Mars Ingenuity spacecraft arrived in February 2021, at the beginning of the Martian Spring. It has worked on Mars throughout the spring and summer months when the air density is higher, winds are calmer, and dust storms are less common.

Dust storms and strong winds will be far more common during the Martian Autumn, which begins on February 24. Because the Martian year is almost twice as long as ours, its seasons are likewise nearly twice as long as ours.

The initial mission of Ingenuity was only supposed to last a month and was just supposed to show that flying on Mars was feasible. Its goal was expanded to include an “operational phase” when it outperformed expectations.

It wasn’t designed to fly or function on Mars during the colder months of the year, so the next year will be a true test for Ingenuity. “We will continue to work hard to keep Ingenuity flying safely for the foreseeable future,” Bapst and Mischna added.