Here's How NASA Engineers Communicate With the First Helicopter to Fly on Another Planet, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
(Photo : Screenshot From

The Ingenuity is NASA's Mars Helicopter that has recently completed two flights on the outer space planet. This was the first time ever that a helicopter was flown outside of Earth! While the two flights are finished and there could be up to 3 to go, one might wonder how NASA engineers are able to communicate with the helicopter. Here's how.

NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter

NASA Tweeted out an image of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter that was reportedly soaring to new heights. The tweet also included a particular link to a new episode of the official Gravity Assist podcast that had Chief Scientist Jim Green.

Nacer Chahat, the senior antenna and microwave engineer over at NASA's official Jet Propulsion Laboratory or NASAJAT over in Pasadena, California was on the podcast and was asked about how they are able to communicate with the Ingenuity helicopter. Nacer noted that the principle is the same but every single spacecraft has other different instruments.

NASA Communication Antennas

He noted that depending on the requirements, instruments or communication, they are all different. He then described how most of the communication antennas are quite typical dishes that most people see but when NASA tries to push the boundaries, that is when they have to come up with new ideas.

Nacer stated that remote sensing is what allows them to get something from afar and that they are using radio frequencies in order to transmit pulses. The pulses are then reflected back from the surface of what they then want to study. They noted that they are now processing data to make firm conclusions.

Read Also: NASA Ingenuity Helicopter Successfully Completes First Test Spin in Mars

NASAJAT Engineer Explains How They Communicate

When asked how Nacer communicates back and forth with their machines from Earth, he noted that they have two concepts. The initial one is to communicate through the use of the orbiter. Nacer said that they have certain orbiters on Mars and that they use them to relay the data back to Earth.

The second concept is through antennas on the machines that communicate directly with Earth but still at a much lower data rate. Most of the time, Nacer notes that they use the orbiter since it would allow them to transmit the whole science much faster. The process is basically they transmit the data directly to the orbiter and in turn the orbit would transmit back to the Deep Space Network back on Earth.

Nacer revealed that MarsCO was actually just one of his first projects and that when he first joined NASA's JPL, the former director of the lab known as Charles Elachi then challenged the lab to find another way for them to do real time communication during the whole lending on InSight. They then used the existing orbiter to collect all of the different information from InSight during the previous landing but because of the alignment of the orbiter, they were still not able to get the data straight away.

Related Article: NASA Ingenuity Helicopter Plans First Ever Aerial Hover on Mars: How to Watch

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Written by Urian B.

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