Listen to this article
NASA delayed the first attempted flight of its Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars. During a high-speed spin test of the rotors on Friday, the command sequence controlling the test ended early due to a “watchdog” timer expiration. This occurred as it was trying to transition the flight computer from ‘Pre-Flight’ to ‘Flight’ mode.
NASA said the Ingenuity Helicopter is safe and healthy and communicated its full telemetry set to Earth. The initial flight has been re-scheduled to no earlier than April 14.
According to NASA, the watchdog timer oversees the command sequence and alerts the system to any potential issues. It helps the system stay safe by not proceeding if an issue is observed and worked as planned. The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue. Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.
If these new tests go well, the 4-pound, $85 million device is expected will take off from Mars’ Jezero Crater and hovering 10 feet above the surface for up to 30 seconds. This flight will be autonomous, with Ingenuity’s guidance, navigation, and control systems doing the piloting. Radio signals will take 15 minutes, 27 seconds to bridge the 173-million-mile journey between Mars and Earth.
#MarsHelicopter 1st flight attempt delayed to no earlier than April 14
During the high-speed spin test, the sequence ended early during the transition from “preflight” to “flight” mode. The helicopter is safe & healthy. The team is diagnosing the issue. https://t.co/ysnZzKR7qM pic.twitter.com/lP3NrIvGBs
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 10, 2021
The Ingenuity Helicopter is a high-risk, high-reward technology demo. If Ingenuity were to encounter difficulties during its 30-sol (Martian day) mission, it would not impact the science gathering of NASA’s Perseverance Rover.
Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one-third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1% that of Earth. If successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data at Mars for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth. NASA also will gain its first hands-on experience operating a rotorcraft remotely at Mars. These datasets will be invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.
Bob Balaram, chief engineer on the Ingenuity Helicopter, was recently featured on NASA’s Small Steps, Giant Leaps podcast describing what it took to develop the helicopter and what to expect during the experimental flights. You can listen to the full podcast below.
Editor’s Note: Follow along The Robot Report’s complete coverage of the Mars 2020 Mission.